NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — If Gov. Bill Lee gets his way, Tennessee will become a major player in a network of taxpayer-funded charter schools set up by a Michigan college with close ties to former President Donald Trump.
Lee calls Hillsdale College's approach to teaching civics "informed patriotism."
But the colleges' own teaching materials reveal why critics say its approach is anything but informed. For example, Hillsdale falsely claims that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not favor using the "force of law" to achieve civil rights victories.
"This curriculum has a political bent to it," said Nashville historian David Ewing, who reviewed the materials at NewsChannel 5's request.
"You should call balls and strikes in history — and just let people read primary sources without massive interpretation."
Charter schools are privately operated schools funded by taxpayer dollars.
According to a recording of a speech by Hillsdale College's president, Dr. Larry Arnn, Lee initially asked the college to start up 100 charter schools in Tennessee. Arnn eventually agreed to 50. (That recording posted by Hillsdale to SoundCloud has since been deleted.)
Three Hillsdale-associated charter schools are currently being proposed right here in Middle Tennessee, two in Williamson County, one in Montgomery.
A search of Hillsdale College's website reveals an organization staking a position on the far right of American politics.
Back in December, the college hosted a speaker who denounced what he called the "insurrection hoax" surrounding the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Roger Kimball, a frequent speaker at Hillsdale downplayed the events as simply "a political protest that 'got out of hand.'"
"It was really much more hoax than insurrection," Kimball said.
"Of course, it is absolutely critical to the Democratic narrative that the January sixth incident be made to seem as violent and crazed as possible."
In fact, multiple videos show an hours-long attack in which a large mob targeted police officers and participants personally declared their intentions to stop the certification of Joe Biden as President of the United States.
Kimball argued that the most violent of the mob — people who assaulted police officers and are still being held awaiting trial — are "political prisoners, many who have been kept in solitary confinement."
If there was a serious crime, Kimball argued, it was committed by the officer defending the Capitol who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, "the long-serving Air Force vet who was murdered by a nervous Capitol Hill police officer that day."
It was a message reprinted in a journal distributed by Hillsdale College to its six million subscribers.
But in his 2022 State of the State Address, Lee had nothing but praise for Hillsdale.
"For decades, Hillsdale College has been a standard-bearer in quality curriculum and in the responsibility of preserving American liberty," he insisted.
The governor announced an educational partnership with Hillsdale to establish publicly funded charter schools across Tennessee.
"I believe their efforts are a good fit for Tennessee, and we are finalizing a partnership with Hillsdale to expand their approach to civics education and K-12 education in Tennessee," Lee said, drawing applause from the legislature's Republican supermajority.
While Hillsdale's videos paint a glowing picture of its approach to teaching children, NewsChannel 5 Investigates wanted to see for ourselves.
Hillsdale's "1776 Curriculum" shows how it wants schools to teach civics. It relies on approaches developed by Arnn and other members of the 1776 Commission appointed by Trump to develop a "patriotic education" for the nation's schools.
The high-school American Government and Politics curriculum emphasizes the "meaningful efforts Republicans made to guarantee the rights of African Americans."
On the other hand, progressive policies implemented by Democrats are presented as a "rejection of the principles of the Declaration of Independence."
Nowhere is that ideological approach more clear than in its portrayal of the civil rights movement and the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"The 1776 Curriculum kind of has their own view of Dr. King and what he would believe today," David Ewing noted.
That curriculum endorses portions of King's "I Have a Dream" speech from 1963, expressing his hope "that my poor little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
"That one moment of that famous great 20th-century speech of 'judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin' cannot just be a meme or taken in a vacuum," Ewing said.
In fact, Hillsdale says students should be taught that "the civil rights movement was almost immediately turned into programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders."
The curriculum claims that King "appealed to the individual conscience and not the force of law to bring about a color-blind society."
That ignores the fact that King fought for civil rights laws that outlawed discrimination in public places and in housing and that protected the right of Blacks to vote.
In fact, King specifically rejected such suggestions in a 1967 speech. (Watch below.)
As for federal laws opening up lunch counters and outlawing discrimination in restaurants, hotels and theatres, Hillsdale's curriculum says, "this was where the line between private conscience and government coercion began to blur."
"Does such force violate the right to assembly and to private property?" the curriculum asks.
"Students should consider how such provisions in the Civil Rights Act and in subsequent laws and court decisions were new uses of government power, because enforcing personal non-discrimination erased the public/private distinction.
"Indeed, this foray, as well-intentioned and morally correct as it was, of government power into the private associations of individuals and businesses would set the agenda for other movements that would become increasingly hostile to King’s view of civil rights."
That argument, that the Civil Rights Act violated the right to assemble and to private property, was made by conservatives in the 1960s and rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Watch video below.)
Ewing noted that Nashville played a pivotal role in the sit-ins that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"The restaurants - every single restaurant in downtown Nashville - they would not serve you," Ewing said.
"And these were private businesses and that was their argument: we are private businesses, we should allow us to allow who comes in and dines in our restaurant."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "And this curriculum basically says they were right."
"This curriculum says that private businesses should be allowed to decide who enters their business."
On the bloody struggle of African-Americans to get the right to vote, Hillsdale says teachers should emphasize the positive: "What was unique to America was the right to vote at all and then the relatively rapid rate at which the right to vote was expanded."
"Yes, it did take other countries longer to get the right to vote, but we fought for the right to vote," Ewing said.
"The women in this city, they marched through the streets of Nashville to get the right to vote. People went to jail and died to get the right to vote in the South. It wasn't just handed to them."
Modern social-justice movements, Hillsdale's curriculum says, are not based on the Founders' views of equality, but on what it calls "identity politics" that make it "less likely that racial reconciliation and healing can be attained."
"They're talking about what people are trying to do today, and they are almost saying that Dr. King would not be in support of that," Ewing noted.
We suggested, "Black Lives Matter, for example."
"Yes," Ewing agreed.
"Black Lives Matter didn't happen because everything was great in society. It happened because there were some things, including the murder of George Floyd, that made people physically get into the street and protest."
The curriculum does not appear to address any potential legitimate concerns raised by such movements.
Instead, it argues that "identity politics divides Americans by placing them perpetually in conflict with each other. This extreme ideology assaults and undermines the American principle of equality."
And just like that speaker back at Hillsdale, Roger Kimball, warned of what he called "an unaccountable administrative state ... ruled by unelected bureaucrats and judges," Hillsdale's curriculum says students should be taught that modern-day laws regulating clean air and clean water are examples of that "administrative state."
"It strikes at the very principle of representative self-government on which the Founders established the United States and is more reminiscent of the lack of representation, against which the colonists revolted," the curriculum continues.
Ewing noted, "History is complicated, and it's complex and it's ever-changing."
"For us to have one person's version of history and not more established academic versions that are taught at Austin Peay and at ETSU and at the University of Tennessee, I don't think that's good for our school children."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates repeatedly to schedule an interview with someone with Hillsdale, but the college never made anyone available.
Read more excerpts below:
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