Numerous K–12 schools are using curriculum materials created by a conservative Christian institution to offer a different perspective on history courses that critics claim gloss over darker aspects of American history in the midst of the continuing national controversy over what is being taught in classrooms.
Hillsdale College in Michigan is the institution behind The 1776 Curriculum, which provides history and civics lessons for K–12 classrooms.
Hillsdale College’s distribution of curricula and teaching resources to other educational institutions is not a new concept, according to Kathleen O’Toole, who holds the position of assistant provost for K–12 Education at the college. She made this statement in an interview with The Christian Post on Friday.
Hillsdale College, a nondenominational college established in 1844, began working with the K–12 grade levels in 1919, the same year Hillsdale Academy was established. According to its website, Hillsdale Academy is a “private classical Christian school owned and operated by Hillsdale College.” More than a dozen states have charter schools run by Hillsdale, and non-member institutions also use its educational resources.
The 1776 Curriculum offers lesson plans that guide teachers on how to instruct students on topics related to American history and civics. The curriculum is available for free, which O’Toole said is possible due to gifts from donors, highlighting how Hillsdale does not accept any federal or state money.
The administrator said that public and Christian schools have adopted the curriculum, as have families. She said that the idea behind the curriculum is to offer students “the truth.”
“So, in classical tradition, regardless of whatever subject we’re talking about, they deserve access to the truth,” she said. “They deserve access to the very best, and they deserve to be treated as if they can really learn these important things without a filter.”
She said a focus of the curriculum includes teaching students through primary source documents and helping them uncover the evidence about historical figures and happenings for themselves.
“History is the story of the past, and the study of history is an effort to uncover the truth in the past through American history,” O’Toole said.
She cited Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president and the writer of “The Declaration of Independence,” as an example. O’Toole called Jefferson a “puzzle,” noting how he wrote “All men are created equal” in the declaration and yet he also held slaves.
“So how do we put those two pieces of information together? That’s a legitimate question to ask, and the answer lies in reading what he wrote about it,” O’Toole stated. “And it’s not a simple answer; it’s a complicated answer. But it can be discovered if you read what he wrote and what others wrote about him at the time.”
However, Hillsdale’s curriculum has come under fire from James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, who claims that the course content fails to adequately address subjects that don’t foster a patriotic vision of the country.
“What they are also trying to do is replace a teaching approach that teaches students how to think with a teaching approach that teaches the students what to think,” Grossman said in a statement to NBC News earlier this month.
Schools in Pennsylvania and Florida have also made attempts to incorporate the conservative college’s teaching methodology, as the NBC investigation revealed.