Is it appropriate for a public school curriculum to be designed around a specific political/ideological project? Most of us would say not. One of the objections to Seven Oaks that many of us have expressed, over the course of its three efforts to be chartered, is that its whole application was guided by Michigan's Hillsdale College. Grace College, the Indiana authorizer which finally approved Seven Oaks last spring, was fully aware of the strong dependence of the Bloomington organizers of the school upon Hillsdale. The school's teachers will receive regular training by Hillsdale. Seven Oaks has hired a number of teachers who have Hillsdale degrees, and its curriculum is the Hillsdale-developed curriculum being marketed as "classical education." One of the first forms that Seven Oaks families have to sign is a release to allow Hillsdale to have access to the students and permission to use images and more in marketing materials. (Pause and think about that for a minute: Indiana public school students being required to give permission to a religious Michigan college so that they can be used to market its charter schools, to further access public funds around the country.)
Some of our local Seven Oaks board members have insisted that the school and its curriculum are not ideological. But then...look what landed in my inbox yesterday--a letter from the Hillsdale College president that included a link to this declaration:
It's explicit: Hillsdale's so-called "classical curriculum" is the first step in its highly political task of "reversing the gains of Progressivism and restoring liberty in America."
The letter that I received from Hillsdale president Larry P. Arnn, part of which I've put in a screen shot below, initially caught my attention because of its rejection of entities whose institutional importance is large in American life, like the IRS, EPA, and Department of Education.
What other elements of American government and law might Hillsdale College find threatening? This college proudly rejects federal funds so as not to be required to comply with Title IX. Seven Oaks board member Fred Prall brought up a similar concern at the July Seven Oaks board meeting that I attended. He was concerned that participation in federal programs might make the school answerable to federal requirements.
Seven Oaks will receive per-pupil tuition support, and Indiana's State Board of Education gave it a $2 million loan this summer. In what parallel universe is such an entrenched and focused political perspective acceptable in a public school? Just the universe of charter school authorization and operation in Indiana...and we're in it.
P.S. Here's the release form that Seven Oaks families need to sign: