Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Hillsdale dogma should not dominate schools

Support Our Schools supports the separation of church and state and questions the school board’s efforts to adopt Hillsdale dogma.

  • By
  • | 8:00 a.m. April 20, 2023
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
  • Share

Support Our Schools was founded with the mission of educating the public about the risks facing our system of public education and providing a platform for advocacy to protect and strengthen public education for all children. Integral to this mission is: 

  • Defending our teachers and administrators from ideological pressure and political attacks 
  • Preserving a modern, scientific and fact-based standard for the educational curriculum
  • Maintaining programs and policies that promote understanding and cooperation as well as the health and well-being of all students.

Support Our Schools members are Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. Some of us practice no formal religion. Some of us are atheists. We decry attacks on any person because of the religion he or she practices or the choice not to practice a religion or belief system.

Support Our Schools strongly believes in the separation of church and state, a principle enshrined in the Constitution and embedded in the policies and practices of public schools and governmental institutions for hundreds of years. No religion should be elevated and promoted within the classrooms of our public schools, and no religion should be discriminated against. Religion should not be in our public schools.

The last few years have seen the rise of a concerted and aggressive national effort by right-wing think tanks and other organizations to alter the direction of public schools. The blueprint for achieving this goal, created by Hillsdale College, is a comprehensive K-12 curriculum that emphasizes a narrower, much more conservative worldview usually found in private Christian and “classical” schools. Support Our Schools strongly believes that our public schools are not the place for a regime of religious-nationalist indoctrination.

There appear to be distinct efforts underway to undermine public schools across the country. Public schools, as opposed to private schools, are obligated to educate all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, religious affiliations or sexual orientation. Private schools may pick and choose which students they wish to educate with no governmental oversight or accountability. 

These efforts appear intended to do more than reshape and eliminate certain course work and topics from academia. We are particularly concerned to see efforts by the Sarasota County School Board to bring changes to public school curricula that rely on the religious dogma espoused by Hillsdale College.

Of particular concern is the current attempt by the chair of the Sarasota County School Board, Bridget Ziegler, to enter a contract with a months-old company, Vermilion Education, which was founded by a young man, Jordan Adams, with no experience in teaching in public education. 

Ms. Ziegler and the board sought no other bids. She apparently decided that Vermilion was qualified to do the job, even though Mr. Adams’ sole experience is five years teaching in Hillsdale charter schools and a private religious school. 

He also has worked on developing the Hillsdale K-12 curriculum and was involved in the review of math books for the state of Florida (looking for the dreaded CRT) and the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum. 

We are concerned that the board is entering into a contract at a cost of $28,000 with a company/individual who is woefully unqualified. We believe this is fiscally and legally irresponsible.

At a Florida Department of Education-sponsored training session on the recently revised Florida civics curriculum developed under Hillsdale College’s leadership, much of the material presented through slides was infused with Christian and conservative ideology. One slide stated that America’s “founders expected religion to be promoted because they believed it to be essential to civic virtue,” while an accompanying slide stated that “without virtue” (i.e., religion) citizens would become “licentious” and “subject to tyranny.” 

Another slide stated it was a misconception that the “founders desired strict separation of church and state.” A slide quoted New England colonist Jonathan Edwards saying, “Political prosperity requires the general practice of a strict morality … as by a belief of Christianity.” 

In the new Florida civics curriculum and in the Hillsdale College K-12 1776 Curriculum, one side of an argument is often presented, and historical figures are frequently cherry-picked to support the Hillsdale College narrative. Its view teaches that Christianity is and should be the dominant religion in our national life and that it should have a more prominent role in public schools.

It is clear to us there is a coordinated strategy by Gov. DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Legislature to defund public school districts by offering universal voucher programs that siphon money into private schools, some of which teach a noninclusive Christian nationalist worldview. 

We are also concerned that the majority of our current Sarasota County School Board is taking direction directly from the governor rather than the stakeholders of our school district.

For the record, Support Our Schools believes that all parents should have the right to send their children to private Christian schools or “classical” academies if they wish. However, this should not be at the expense of the health and stability of our public education system. 

If this plan succeeds, we believe it will hollow out our public schools to the detriment of the economy, our democracy and the overall well-being of the Sarasota community.

Any attempt by right-wing groups to label Support Our Schools as anti-Christian is completely unfounded. It is a cynical attempt to create divisions and stir up anger. Many Sarasota Christians standing with Support Our Schools have a strong faith in God. They strongly believe in Jesus Christ’s principle teachings of love thy neighbor, humility, charity, forgiveness, service to others and empathy. These principles are not the exclusive province of Christians. These qualities are needed now more than ever to push back against the surge in hate and intolerance directed toward some Sarasota educators, students and their families.

Support our Schools and many Sarasota parents prefer that divisive culture war issues stay out of the classroom. Most parents just want a positive, safe and supportive learning environment for their children. 

We ask that politicians keep their personal religious views separate from educational policy decisions in our public schools.


Latest News