“Not since the Civil War has there been as urgent a need for civics education and the philosophical principles that are essential to a free society,” states Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn.
Acting on these convictions, Arnn and Matthew Spalding, the dean of Hillsdale College’s Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, D.C., recently served as chairman and executive director, respectively, of President Trump’s Advisory 1776 Commission. Before it was disbanded, the Commission issued the “1776 Report,” which reviews the central principles of the American founding and discusses challenges to them throughout American history such as slavery, communism, and identity politics.
“It is our mission – all of us – to restore our national unity,” the Report argues, “by rekindling a brave and honest love for our country and by raising new generations of citizens who not only know the self-evident truths of our founding, but act worthy of them.”
Arnn’s work on the 1776 Commission is an extension of his efforts at Hillsdale. Founded in 1844, he notes that the College’s mission is “to educate all, regardless of nation, color, or sex, in order to secure the blessings of religious and civil liberty.”
Hillsdale offers students the opportunity to orient their lives by “the good, the true, and the beautiful” through a rigorous core curriculum based on great texts in the Western canon. All students sign the Honor Code, a pledge of self-government that commits them to an “active cultivation of intellectual and moral excellence and humility before our Creator” inside and outside of the classroom.
Featuring a tight-knit student body of around 1,500 and a selective admissions process, Hillsdale famously takes neither federal nor state education funding. In 2019, Forbes gave Hillsdale an A+ for financial health, a rating only 38 schools out of 921 received.
Arnn notes that Hillsdale recently added a K-12 initiative, a graduate school of statesmanship, and expanded online courses. “All of our efforts serve this essential, educational mission to preserve our free society,” he says.
The Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale’s Michigan campus offers both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in politics, while the graduate program at Hillsdale in D.C. offers an M.A. in government to policymakers, journalists, lawyers, speechwriters, and other interested professionals.
Students take courses from renowned faculty that explore the insights of political philosophers including Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, and Tocqueville and examine the American political tradition for the purpose of recovering republican and constitutional government. Spalding says that students are able to encounter “the first principles of politics and how those principles apply to today’s challenges in the context of the national political debate.”
Described by Spalding as an “extension of the college’s teaching mission in the nation’s capital,” Hillsdale in D.C. also offers the James Madison Fellowship Program, where young professionals meet once a month for “frank discussion and study of the central threats confronting the country.” The program also offers multiple internship opportunities, public events featuring prominent speakers such as Wilfred McClay and Christopher Caldwell, and a library full of pivotal texts on American history and government, including a first edition of “The Federalist Papers.”
In the field of K-12 education, Hillsdale’s Barney Charter School Initiative supports the creation of schools that will “train the minds and improve the hearts of young people” by inculcating a classical education in the “arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.” Approximately 14,700 students attend 24 BCSI-affiliated schools in 11 states, with 12 more projected openings over the next two years.
Those past college age still have many ways they can learn from Hillsdale’s esteemed faculty..
Hillsdale offers a set of free online courses on topics such as the Constitution, Wilfred McClay’s American history textbook “Land of Hope,” and civil rights. Over 5.6 million readers receive “Imprimis,” a free monthly digest highlighting speeches by statesmen, jurists, scholars, economists, and cultural icons. And the Hillsdale Dialogues airs every Friday on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program. It features Arnn, Spalding, and other Hillsdale faculty discussing a wide range of topics including American history, the teachings of key political philosophers, and sharp analysis of the current political landscape.
Through myriad educational efforts aimed at both young and old, Hillsdale College is ensuring that the American experiment in liberty continues for generations to come.
Mike Sabo is the editor of RealClear’s American Civics portal.