State seeks SOL input from college where president said teachers 'trained in the dumbest colleges'

Posted at 6:34 PM, Jan 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-25 07:36:45-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- When Wesley Hedgepeth was a student at Hopewell High School, he met an educator who would inspire him to become a teacher — AP Government teacher .

"He was so unbiased and so passionate about the subject matter that it was infectious," Hedgepeth said.

Hedgepeth is now on the verge of becoming the President of the National Council for the Social Studies.

From that position, Hedgepeth has watched the debate over what should and should not be taught in Virginia's history and government classes.

"Social studies standards are the blueprint of what happens in the classroom," Hedgepeth said.

But, Hedgepeth has concerns.

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"I don't think the process has been transparent since the summer," Hedgepath said. "Since Jillian Balow took office."

Balow is the state's Superintendent of Public Education.

Appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) after he took office in 2022, she delayed the adoption of revisions to the history standards that began while Governor Ralph Northam (D - Virginia) was in office.

Hedgepeth said Balow delayed those adoptions because she sought the review of individuals and entities that had not yet been heard.

"We think that the more voices that there are the richer that these standards become," Balow said when she released the most recent draft of the standards in January 2023.

Among those voices is Hillsdale College, a private Christian college in Michigan.

When Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced a partnership with Hillsdale last year to use taxpayer dollars to fund 50 privately operated charter schools in the state, News Channel 5 in Nashvilleuncovered a video of Hillsdale President Larry Arnn expressing his views on teachers.

"Teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country."

"Teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country," Arnn said in the video. "They're taught they are going to go and do something to those kids."

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Hedgepeth called Arnn's comments "very insulting."

"It's hard to stomach that someone who says things like that, who has a mindset that is anti-teacher and anti-education is crafting the social studies standards that our students are learning," Hedgepeth said.

News Channel 5 in Nashville also located an email written by Arnn last year in which he wrote:

"In many instances, instead of classes of substance, [parents] find lectures on highly-charged subjects like racism and sexuality — subjects that should be broached, not by teachers, but by the child’s own parents."

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers reached out to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to ask just how much input Hillsdale had in the new draft standards issued by Balow and who exactly asked them to take a look at the standards.

VDOE spokesperson Charles Pyle told the Problem Solvers that department staff reached out to academics at several institutions of higher education, including Hillsdale. After asking for an interview with or statement from Balow for weeks, the Problem Solvers tried to speak with her at a literacy event hosted by Governor Youngkin.

"You've got to go through Charles to do this," Balow said when asked about answering questions on the topic.

"Which I've been doing, but it hasn't worked out," Problem Solver Melissa Hipolit replied.

"I'll touch base with him as soon as I get back to the office," Balow responded.

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The Problem Solvers also submitted a public records request to the VDOE for any correspondence and documents related to a review of the history standards conducted by Hillsdale College.

The VDOE said it found 24 emails responsive to the Problem Solvers' request. Those emails amounted to 100 pages.

But the VDOE chose to withhold those pages because they were considered the governor's confidential working papers and relate to the deliberation of the governor's office on education curriculum.

The Problem Solvers then asked Governor Youngkin about Hillsdale.

"I was wondering why you or your staff wanted Hillsdale College brought into that process to review the standards? The president has made some controversial statements in the past," Melissa Hipolit said to the Governor.

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"The history standards that were formulated and released were being processed consistent with principles that I laid out," he said. "We want to have the best history standards in the nation, we want to teach all of our histories the good and the bad. We want to make sure the topics are age-appropriate, but we also want to make sure we're comprehensive and the work that was done building off of the work that was done over the previous year, year-and-a-half brought in a comprehensive perspective, and I am pleased with how we ended up," he replied.

After the Problem Solvers spoke with Youngkin and attempted to talk to Balow, the VDOE sent a more detailed statement:

Hillsdale College was among several organizations contacted by the Virginia Department of Education last fall to provide broader intellectual and academic diversity to the standards review and development process.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow reached out to Hillsdale because of the school’s national reputation for constitutional studies and curriculum development. Hillsdale is consistently ranked as one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and by the Princeton Review.

Hillsdale’s interim director of curriculum provided suggested edits and revisions to VDOE on November 9. He also provided a copy of the college’s Model State Social Studies Standards.

The college’s model standards did not factor significantly in the development of the draft History and Social Science Standards of Learning presented to the Board of Education November 17. For example, in developing the November draft, VDOE staff retained the structure and format traditionally followed by department staff in writing content standards.

Suggestions from Hillsdale College — along with suggestions from the more than 200 individuals and organizations consulted since the current revision process began in early 2021 — were considered in development of the draft History and Social Science Standards released on January 5 to the state Board of Education.

As Mrs. Balow noted in her January 9 op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the draft standards now before the board strike a balance between content knowledge and critical thinking, and incorporate the views and suggestions of historians and curriculum experts gathered over a period of more than two years.  

Hillsdale and professors affiliated with the school have helped rewrite history standards in Florida and South Dakota.

CBS 6 political analyst Doctor Bob Holsworth said Hillsdale has a good reputation in conservative circles for providing a classical liberal arts education grounded in Christian principles.

Holsworth said there may be some reason to consult Hillsdale about basic constitutional foundations, but he does not believe there is anyone at Hillsdale who is generally acknowledged as an expert in Virginia history or known for their expertise in teaching about race or racism.

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