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REVEALED: Governor dodges questions about charter school curriculum on civil rights history

Lee personally invited schools to Tennessee
Posted: 5:54 PM, Mar 09, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-09 19:12:18-05
Gov Bill Lee and Phil Williams.jpeg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Should Tennessee children be taught that civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination were a bad thing?

On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Lee dodged those questions.

It follows a NewsChannel 5 investigation into a Michigan college that Lee personally invited to set up charter schools across Tennessee. That investigation revealed that Hillsdale College's 1776 Curriculum rewrites the history of the civil rights movement.

"Hillsdale is not currently operating here, but they are one who would like to, and they'll go through the same vetting process as anyone, which will include curriculum," Lee said in response to questions from NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Related: Charter school program favored by governor rewrites civil rights history

Less than six weeks ago, during his State of the State Address, Lee drew a standing ovation from the legislature's Republican supermajority when he announced a collaboration with the ultra-conservative college to set up the publicly funded, privately operated charter schools.

"For decades, Hillsdale College has been a standard-bearer in quality curriculum and in the responsibility of preserving American liberty," Lee told lawmakers. "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."

The head of Hillsdale College has said that Lee asked him to set up as many as 100 schools across the state, that Hillsdale agreed to establish 50 by Lee's "sell-by date."

After our investigation revealed how Hillsdale's curriculum rewrites the history of the civil rights movement, Princeton historian Kevin Kruse tweeted he was "not sure if I'm more offended as a historian or a Tennessean."

He also called it "right-wing hackery" and "mind-blowingly stupid stuff."

Lee's reaction?

"They'll be subject to the same process as any other charter management organization," he said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "But you have embraced them. You included them in the State of the State. Do you not have an obligation to ensure that what they are teaching is historically correct?"

"I think that's why there will be a vetting process for them through the state Department of Education," Lee answered.

What about his personal responsibility?

"My obligation is to attract high-quality charter organizations," Lee said.

In fact, the curriculum that Lee embraced suggests that the civil rights law barring discrimination in public places violated the constitutional rights of those businesses that did not want to open their doors to people of color, saying "this was where the line between private conscience and government coercion began to blur."

We asked Lee, "Do you believe that businesses have a constitutional right to practice racial discrimination?"

Lee appeared to carefully choose his words.

"I do not think that discrimination based on race should be tolerated in any form," the governor said, quickly turning to another report.

Still, we wanted to get his reaction to Hillsdale's criticism of the civil rights movement, specifically that "the civil rights movement was almost immediately turned into programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders."

So we decided to try one more time.

As the governor walked away, we followed.

"Do you believe that the civil rights movement was almost immediately turned into programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the founders?" we asked.

Lee said nothing.

"Have you read the curriculum, sir?" we asked.

We never got an answer.

It's not clear why the governor would have invited Hillsdale to Tennessee without reading the curriculum first to see just how "informed" it really is.


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