‘Last month, the New York Times published an article about Hillsdale College and its Barney Charter School Initiative. As we’ve grown accustomed to expecting from the past year of misinformation, the article was misleading and dishonest. The article serves, however, as an opportunity to remind everyone what exactly these charter schools are and illuminate their purpose.
Probably the occasion for this article was the state of the state address in Tennessee, where Governor Bill Lee mentioned that he was asking Hillsdale College to help with charter schools in the state. This set off a firestorm that touches the most powerful political and educational forces in the land. They are bureaucracies, ruling in the name of their “expertise.” Anyone not a member in good standing of this bureaucratic system is an invader. The articles critical of us and everybody else doing charter schools imply that this bureaucracy is the essence of public education. We hold to the old view that teachers, students, and parents make up the public schools.
Each of our charter schools is a civic project involving hundreds of people from their local community. Often, those involved have school-aged children or grandchildren. If not, they are citizens who care deeply for the families and children who live in their city or town. They educate these kids because they love them—they want to show them things that are beautiful, true, and good.
And so these people—most of them are volunteers, mind you—spend countless hours learning how to manage a school, how to start sports leagues and band programs, create budgets, establish a board, draft applications, or find a school building. Founding a school is difficult, but these people do it for the sake of others—that’s a noble thing.
Why do they work so hard to open these schools in particular? It is because these schools want to help their children become wise, but also become good. Hillsdale charter schools offer an education in the classical liberal arts, emphasizing science, mathematics, literature, and history, but also teaching the arts, Latin, civics, philosophy, and ethics. The purpose of such an education is to form the hearts and minds of its students—to strengthen their characters as well as their intellects.
By the time these schools open, they are big, effective, and excellent. They go on to hire headmasters who know how to build a school culture and make the trains run on time. They attract dynamic teachers who love their subjects because they too have been personally transformed by them. Within a few years, they rank among the best in their districts and states.
When he visited the United States in 1831 and 1832, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the American spirit of community in his book, Democracy in America: “In no country in the world do the citizens make such exertions for the commonwealth; and I am acquainted with no people which has established schools as numerous and as efficacious … better suited to the wants of the inhabitants.” At our charter schools, these efforts continue for the sake of an education better suited to the needs of the community.
Our charter schools are the work of their communities and those who live in them. They are built with love, and they take on the character of the people and communities that built them. And so, the students flourish there.
In stark contrast to much of what is reported in the news today, the students and parents at these schools are happy. Parents love seeing their children grow into fine young men and women, and the students are proud to see it in themselves, as well.
We use the Latin words alma mater when we refer to our former place of education. The words mean “nurturing mother”—I cannot think of a more nurturing educational environment than these schools.’ An Email from Hillsdale College’s president, Dr. Larry Arnn