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From Aric S. Huffman
Prattville High School Student
Tuesday evening (April 20th, 2021), at 5:30 PM, the Prattville City Council continued an ongoing discussion surrounding the future of educational funding. The Autauga County Board of Education and the Ivy Classical Academy (a proposed charter school hoping to find a home in Prattville) each gave an approximately 30-minute presentation concerning this issue, and while no final decisions were determined Tuesday night, this city council meeting will prove to be crucial in the recent push for the institution of the new charter school.
On paper, a new charter school that embraces the tradition of the Founding Fathers, encourages the study of classical literature, and instills an enlightening development of character based on classical philosophy is no doubt appealing to many of us. These very ideals are exactly what Ivy Classical Academy promises to achieve, and the local response to this proposal (with 800 students pre-enrolled as of last count) has shown the veracity of classical education’s growing popularity within Autauga County and the surrounding areas.
The Academy even has the promise of potentially making use of unused property in the High Point Town Center, hoping to resolve an issue this city has had problems addressing for years. According to WSFA 12, Bradley Neave, the Board Chairperson for the Academy declared, “The main reason why we are excited about this is that we are addressing the growing concern of the lack of quality public education not just in Autauga County, but in the River Region and the best way to address those concerns is school choice,” trying to make a case for why gaining the financial support of the city is critical for not only the Academy, but also for the development of our local communities.
However, these strong claims of encouraging progress and stimulating growth through the prospect of this new school does raise questions. How realistic is it that Ivy Classical Academy can live up to its hype? Can it really save the River Region for years to come?
My answer here would be this: probably not. The first thing that comes to mind is questioning the validity of the Academy’s bold proclamation that “There is a distinct need for a tuition free classical education option in Autauga County and the surrounding communities.” The Academy is an organization established through the Barney Charter School Initiative (BCSI), a project by Hillsdale College created to give K-12 students nationwide “instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue,” through a deep study of classical literature, language, and philosophy in order to create “stewards of the ‘Western Tradition.’”
The organization cites the substandard proficiency statistics reported for Autauga County Schools and the growing support for their school as a reason why it is necessary for a classical education institution within our area; however, I’d like to take a step further into it and say that using money, time, and effort in creating new schools is a great prospect, if it does not detract from the money, time, and effort that could be used to improve or reform the systems already in place.
The Academy has asked for assistance from the city to help fund the purchase buildings and renovate them for around $22.8 million dollars. Imagine what could be done with not only that amount of money, but the same fervor, the same passion, and the same time and resources, putting it into the already existing school system. On a purely practical level, it would save so much of these resources to just improve the systems we already have rather than to invest in a completely different school system. I do understand that the ramifications for the BOE’s school funding aren’t directly related to the city of Prattville, however this only furthers my point that we should put our efforts into reforming and improving the structures already put in place.
Monetary and resource constraints, although they are a strong argument against the school’s practicality, aren’t really within the school’s control itself. Another strong issue against the school is their curriculum, which in contrast is within the school’s control. Not only does the idea of the Ivy Classical Academy take away from our resources as a city and county, but it also promotes ideals that should seriously concern those considering enrolling in the new charter school. I do concede that their principle of studying the classics and classical thought processes is a great thing that we should definitely implement further into schools, as they provide the basis and historical context surrounding events in history; however, they do not present this ideal in the most useful fashion. Hillsdale College, the BCSI, and the Ivy Classical Academy all claim that they strive to preserve Western tradition and culture and return to the deep study of Greek, Roman, European, and American history/literature, saying that “The classics provide the most thoughtful reflections on the meaning and potential of human life.” These ‘classics’, implied by their constant preaching of upholding Western society, seem simply to be a collection of works and ideas that only support an archaic, eurocentric view of the world.
Although it is definitely important to study the ideas of historically American, European, and ancient Greek/Roman people, this over-exaggeration of their importance seems to neglect the equal importance and impact of the rest of the world on the development of modern society. It also tends to neglect the importance of the ever growing and ever evolving world of modern works of art, science, literature, and philosophy that are critical to better understanding the applications of thought in our world as it is today, along with the world of our future.
The funniest part about this curriculum is that it doesn’t even follow its own ideals. Within its curriculum outline and goals established in its application to become a legitimate charter school, the Academy lists a modern literature class, a Singapore Math Program, and a K-8 program based on a Core Knowledge standard set in 1988, among other things that highlight the reality that this school does not truly encourage its own system. Nothing sounds like classical Western tradition to me like reading current literature, studying a math program from Singapore, and using a learning program from 1988.
The Academy claims to teach “pillars of freedom” and “Truth, Justice, Virtue, and Beauty”, yet tries to confine students to this goal of nearly worshipping the philosophies and works of old Western culture rather than truly embracing the work of modern society and the contributions of other societies that make up the current global societal climate. Larry P. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College (thus directly tied into the foundational ideas of this new school through the BCSI), once even infamously stated in 2013 that his school “didn’t have enough dark ones”, in reference to a Michigan state investigation on his school for violating diversity guidelines. May I stress that he is still the acting president of this college, and has a deep hand in all of this “Western stewardship” being thrown around by the BCSI and its schools.
If the school would simply listen to its own advice to study the founding fathers and their intellectual pursuits, they would have come to realize that the fathers of our country sought to “form a more perfect Union” in which free thought, pursuit of progress, and societal adaptation was encouraged.
The Ivy Classical Academy violates that in every right, and thus can’t even stand for the ideals it holds within its own organization. Therefore, how could they stand for the ideals and promises it holds for our city and its future? Simply put, they cannot, and the Ivy Classical Academy will just be another waste of money, time, and effort for Prattville, students, and for generations to come, if they are upheld and fostered by the government and local population.