Families Find Education, Not Indoctrination at Classical Charter Schools 

The misconception that charter schools are religiously oriented stems from our attempts to promote essential habits of mind and body.
Families Find Education, Not Indoctrination at Classical Charter Schools 
(Debby Hudson/Unsplash.com)
Department of Education data reported recently by Attendance Works showed that over the past six years, the student absentee rate has almost tripled in Ohio. In 2022, the rate of chronic absence was nearly 34 percent, or 565,651 students.

Why are students ditching Ohio’s public schools? For the same reason that parents continue to abandon public schools and charter school enrollment continues to skyrocket: Public schools have largely abandoned their educational mission.

Whether it’s the “progressive” but vacuous approach to the curriculum, the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the absurd number of high school graduates who can’t read, mainstream schools across the country have proven one thing: They can’t fulfill their civic and professional duty to educate children.
But instead of recognizing this massive exodus of families for what it is—a referendum on the inability of mainstream schools to educate—well-funded critics from teachers’ unions and their media allies have, in recent months, waged war on the very charter schools that are giving children a shot at a better education. And they’ve singled out Hillsdale College’s charter school network as guilty of a partisan conspiracy to indoctrinate children into “right-wing Christian nationalism”—a catch-all smear that these critics never even bother to define.

Readers may be caught off guard by the radicalism of such attacks, but they shouldn’t be. For two generations, unions and administrators have been pushing supposedly “value-neutral education” while being actively hostile to anything that doesn’t correspond to their definition of “value-neutral.” Many parents understand this and prefer classical charter schools to mainstream schools in their communities. It’s a responsible and often necessary choice parents make, because they know that truly “value-neutral” education doesn’t exist and never will.

So, what do we teach at classical charter schools like mine, and how is that different from mainstream schools?

To be clear: We don’t teach religion in charter schools. We’re a public school, and public schools funded by local, state, and federal taxpayer dollars must adhere to secular educational standards. Hillsdale College’s network of charter schools, of which Cincinnati Classical is a proud member, operates within the legal framework that mandates secular instruction, ensuring that religious teachings aren’t a part of the curriculum. Even admission to charter schools such as mine is through a lottery system, which ensures fairness and a diverse student body from all backgrounds—and we would have it no other way.

That said, societies have a right and duty to educate and morally form their children. That’s the point of public education. The misconception that charter schools are religiously oriented stems from our attempts to promote the essential habits of mind and body that make public education possible.

Take our curriculum, for example. Classical education values objective standards of correctness, logic, beauty, and truth. These standards are essential to the liberal arts and education because there’s no point in asking why people do things if there’s no objective standard determining a right or wrong answer to the question. Such standards have deep historical roots; scholars and thinkers as distant in time and space as Plato, Al-Farabi, and the Buddha have embraced them.

Our educational mission also directs our emphasis on character development. To the extent that classical education, as implemented in Hillsdale charter schools, promotes particular virtues, we encourage those that are essential for living in a community and necessary for academic excellence.

We emphasize integrity, empathy, responsibility, and respect for others. We set high academic standards, demand disciplined study habits, and promote a content-rich curriculum. We challenge students to rise to the occasion, to develop the resilience, grit, and strong work ethic that serious classroom work requires.

This approach to education equips students with enduring skills that transcend any particular religious or political group and are universally valued across time and culture because they’re the bare minimum for living with others and learning from them. The results speak for themselves: This year, New York Magazine conceded that a recent study of charter schools “finds, unambiguously, that students on average gain more learning in charter schools than in traditional public schools.”

Cincinnati Classical’s recent scores bear that out: Our math proficiency scores are 30 percent higher than the local school district average and 26 percent higher than the Ohio state average for grades 3–6. Even more remarkable is that we’re close behind the three leading public school districts in southwestern Ohio, after only two years in operation.

The fact that market forces highlight the relative success of each charter school—in contrast to mainstream public schools—can be seen as a source of information about what parents value in education. It can even be an impetus for change. But it’s disingenuous to suggest that charter schools are anything other than a shining example of education done well.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Michael S. Rose is principal and head teacher at Cincinnati Classical Academy, a K-12 tuition-free (public) classical school in affiliation with the Barney Charter School Initiative (BCSI) of Hillsdale College.
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