To the Editor:
While we appreciate Adam Laats’ thoughtful coverage of Hillsdale College and our K-12 charter-school initiative (“How Conservative Colleges Win the Culture Wars,” The Chronicle Review, October 24), we take exception to his mischaracterization of the college and its work.
For instance, Professor Laats refers to the charter schools with which we are affiliated as “explicitly conservative,” and he casts these schools as a front in a culture war of “extreme partisanship.” Laats fundamentally misunderstands our purpose at Hillsdale College: to provide a liberal-arts education that will help students to become knowledgeable, character-driven young people who understand how to think through and wrestle with tough questions. This pursuit is and must always remain above the fray of contemporary politics. An education aimed at human flourishing is something that can be enjoyed by all people at all times, and is not “left” or “right,” “conservative” or “liberal.” We began our work in K-12 education because we believe that a quality education should not be limited to the 1,500 college students enrolled at our Michigan campus but extended to as many American children as possible.
Laats conflates Hillsdale with other institutions of higher education in order to build the accusation that Hillsdale’s K-12 efforts are aimed at delivering a “conservative, Christian version of history to schoolchildren.” By law, charter schools — including those that work with Hillsdale — are public schools with no religious affiliation. In schools using Hillsdale’s curriculum, students learn about Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and the religious beliefs and pantheons of civilizations like the Babylonians, the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, and the Romans. These topics are taught as academic subjects, not as religious catechesis.
Laats speculates that Hillsdale College may sell textbooks. Hillsdale College never — in any circumstance — profits from the resources it offers to charter schools. There is one set of phonics materials that are available for affiliated schools to purchase at-cost through Hillsdale College.
Laats decries an “ideologically driven” vision of American history. What is his understanding of Hillsdale College and our approach to K-12 education if not ideologically driven?