Kathryn Joyce, an investigative reporter for Salon, has written a three-part series for Salon about Hillsdale College, the ultra-conservative Christian college that has entered the charter industry. This is first in the series. Hillsdale was originally founded to preserve the classical tradition in education, but it evolved into a far-right incubator of ideas and officials for the Trump administration.

Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee has already made a deal with Hillsdale to launch 50 Christian-themed charter schools in his state. The fact that this usurps local control of schools in Tennessee doesn’t bother the governor because the state will supply a politically sanitized, Christian school at public expense.

Hillsdale leaders, Joyce explains, were deeply involved in Trump’s so-called “1776 Commission,” which was supposed to be a call for “patriotic education” as a counter to “The 1619 Project.” The college “has quietly become one of the most influential entities in conservative politics.”

Joyce describes in detail a Hillsdale charter school in Orange County led by a powerful ultra-conservative couple: the wife is president of the Orange County Board of Education and the husband is a physician who opposes COVID vaccines and any effort to combat climate change.

Joyce writes:

In an era of book bans, crusades against teaching about racism, and ever-widening proposals to punish teachers and librarians, Hillsdale is not just a central player, but a ready-made solution for conservatives who seek to reclaim an educational system they believe was ceded decades ago to liberal interests. The college has become a leading force in promoting a conservative and overtly Christian reading of American history and the U.S. Constitution. It opposes progressive education reforms in general and contemporary scholarship on inequality in particular. It has featured lectures describing the Jan. 6 insurrection as a hoax and Vladimir Putin as a “hero to populist conservatives around the world.” [Diane’s note: They got that right!]

If you thought that Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission — a jingoistic alternative to the New York Times’ “1619 Project” that was roundly panned by historians — died with his presidency, that effort is now being amplified and exported, on a massive scale, around the country. If you wonder what conservatives hope to install in place of the books they’re trying to ban, the answer often lies in Hillsdale’s freely-licensed curricula.

And as Republicans move into a new phase of their long-game efforts to privatize public education, Hillsdale has become a key resource. Across the nation, conservative officials from state leaders to insurgent school board members are clamoring to implement Hillsdale’s proudly anti-woke lesson plans, including the “patriotic education” premises of its recently released 1776 Curriculum, or add to its growing network of affiliated classical charter schools. 

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