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Valley Forge Classical Academy's "Trade Secret" Hillsdale College Curriculum

The school's Hillsdale College curriculum is closely guarded as "trade secret" and is politically and religiously biased

Valley Forge Classical Academy has applied to operate in WCASD as a taxpayer-funded, public charter school, with plans to use Hillsdale College's K-12 Curriculum.

Hillsdale College is a conservative Christian College whose Barney Charter School Initiative (BCSI) is working to "revitalize" public education by launching "classical K-12 charter schools" that "emphasizes the centrality of the Western tradition."

BSCI and the Hillsdale Curriculum have been widely criticized as politically motivated and religiously biased. Experts have also expressed concern that the curriculum excludes diverse perspectives and seeks to revise U.S. history.

"They’re catering to white families and affluent families.”

-Charisse Gulosino, an associate professor of leadership and policy studies at the University of Memphis, quoted by the New York Times in a 2022 article about Hillsdale College's Barney Charter School Initiative. Gulosino's research has found that students in suburban charter schools do not outperform their public school counterparts.

"Trade Secret" Curriculum

VFCA says their curriculum is available online, but that is untrue. The full K-12 curriculum is closely guarded by Hillsdale, who claims the copyrighted curriculum contains "trade secrets".

The full curriculum includes a 600+ page "K-12 Program Guide" and VFCA's alignment of it to PA Standards. Public records requests have made the curriculum available to WCASD community members for in-person inspection only.

Additional materials such as textbooks and online resources are not available without a license from Hillsdale College.

A Political and Religious Curriculum: The Antithesis of Public Education

The clear political agenda and religious bias present in Hillsdale's K-12 curriculum make it unsuitable for a taxpayer funded public school. Furthermore, the extent to which detailed curriculum materials beyond the program guide (including extensive online "box" resources referenced throughout the program guide) may be even more biased toward specific political, religious, and cultural perspectives is unknown, as these materials are unavailable for review.

By law, public charter school applicants must demonstrate that they will improve learning for ALL pupils and serve as a model for other public schools. The exclusionary perspective of the Hillsdale Curriculum makes it clear that VFCA's plan does not meet the legal standard for approval.

This blog includes brief highlights noted by community members who had an opportunity to review the K-12 Program Guide in person:

Emphasis on Religion, Especially Christianity

The curriculum heavily emphasizes the teaching of "virtue" and contains religious dogma throughout.

A 9th grade history unit includes the Ascension of Jesus in a list of historical events. (K-12 Program Guide, p. 476)

While multiple religions are covered, the curriculum emphasizes "Lasting Ideas" from Christianity and Judaism only, whereas Islam is covered purely from a historical perspective. Hinduism and Buddhism are glossed over. No other perspectives are mentioned, nor is atheism.

Math Framed in the Context of Religion

The math curriculum is prefaced with a Kepler quote: "The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics." (K-12 Program Guide, p. 22)

Warnings Against Science

Hillsdale College presents science and the liberal arts as competing perspectives.

The science curriculum claims "the modern view of science education is warped" and that it "must be tempered with an understanding of the limits of science."

It continues, "The methods of the natural sciences are limited to consideration of only certain kinds of experience and are not well suited to exploration of all truth." (K-12 Program Guide, p. 31)

Political Bias

The curriculum has a pervasive conservative bias, starting as early as Kindergarten, in which the concept of Democracy is presented as "Americans believe people have to agree to allowing someone else to tell them what to do."

The curriculum asserts “[T]ime and place do matter. Without a time and place to think about, the students cannot possibly orient themselves in the historical moment.” (K-12 Program Guide, p. 25) And yet, the curriculum frames the Civil Rights Movement into a false dichotomy of simple “violent” and “non-violent” groupings (K-12 Program Guide, p. 561) rather than working to “see the full range of humanity” as it claims is a priority.

A high school unit titled "Progressivism and the Rise of the Administrative State" includes a theme on "Progressives' rejection of the Declaration, natural rights, and social contract theory." (K-12 Program Guide, p. 607)

The economics curriculum is heavily biased and treats trickle-down economics as fact. Students participate in an exercise in which they are asked to imagine that their lifestyles are not much different than that of Bill Gates in order to conclude that it is beneficial to the poor when the rich get richer. Per the curriculum:

"The aims of the high school economics course are best achieved through lectures and discussions that emphasize real and plausible stories. Early in the class, teachers should tell stories that help students become intrigued by the market system. For example, students could be asked to think about how little their lifestyles differ from that of BillGates, one of the richest people in the world. They can fly in an airplane, drive a car, live in a shelter with electricity and running water, and eat three meals a day. Mr. Gates may have his own plane and drive a nicer car, but really that difference is not vast. Yet the lifestyle difference is enormous between that of students and that of a person living in sub-Saharan Africa, where a market society has not yet developed.

Students could also be encouraged to ask themselves where they want to be poor. They will not choose North Korea or Nigera over the United States or Hong Kong. From this observation, we readily deduce a key postulate. Namely, when the wealthiest in a free-market system get wealthier, so do the poor, and further, the free market system is the only system that creates wealth for the masses. Through this approach of story-telling, observation, and extrapolation, students should come to understand key aspects of the free market system and its alternatives." (K-12 Program Guide, p. 607)

The exercise describes how students will draw a conclusion from "this approach of story-telling, observation, and extrapolation."

Limited Perspectives in Literature

The curriculum limits student reading in literature to "classics," which it defines as works that "multiple generations have recognized" as having merit. (K-12 Program Guide, p. 28)

This approach results in a severe lack of diverse and modern perspectives.

Few modern students will see themselves reflected in the books they read, nor will they be exposed to broad perspectives.

A Skewed "Moral & Political Philosophy"

High school students take a multi-year class on "Moral and Political Philosophy." The course, which is also framed as a preparation for American History, is heavily biased toward a conservative political viewpoint. Rather than teach students how to analyze and draw their own conclusions, it presents political perspectives as objective truths.

Per the curriculum introduction, "Students will study the ways in which various modern developments - including the rise of ideology and utopianism, the unleashing of scientific and technological progress, and the spread of moral relativism - could contribute to tyranny, totalitarianism, and the degradation of the human soul." (K-12 Program Guide, p. 525)


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