OXON HILL, Md.—Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn criticized the overcomplication of learning in K-12 schools and universities across the nation, calling for America to return to “the classics.”
Speaking at The Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit on Friday, Arnn picked apart the critical flaws in how progressives view the classroom in a discussion with Fox News commentator Lisa Boothe titled “Higher Education: The Battle for the American Mind.”
Arnn, serving since 2000 as Hillsdale’s 12th president, began by outlining what he argued is the greatest gap in American learning.
“We’ve forgotten what [education] is, everything is wrong about it now,” Arnn said. “Education is simply about learning things … the human being stretches himself out to know.”
Arnn said teachers are needed to aid students in learning about the greater world around them, but that the American education system has perverted that original model with needless administrators and distractions.
“Since the 1930s, the number of students have increased by 8% [per capita], the number of teachers have increased by 8.5% [per capita], the number of administrators have increased 92%,” Arnn said.
Equity coaches, curriculum coaches, curriculum coordinators, social-emotional learning counselors, and “inclusion” aids have become commonplace in elementary, secondary, and higher education, he said.
This distracts from learning “the human skills, the things that only human beings do: reading, writing, and arithmetic,” Arnn said.
Arnn divided the entirety of learning into two sets of skills: human and natural studies. Human studies, he said, consists of philosophy, literature, history, politics, and economics. The natural sciences and studies are devised from biology, chemistry, and physics.
Modern education has tampered with human and natural studies, Arnn argued, by attempting to pursue a delusion to “change how [children] see the world.”
Arnn attributed this foolish pursuit to the philosophical fool’s gold of Marx and Hegel in the 19th century. As a counter that Arnn described as a surer foundation, Hillsdale College’s students are educated with classical principles, including those of Aristotle.
“Every kid should read Aristotle,” he said. “In classical philosophy, [students] are interested in what things are. The fundamental question is, ‘What is it for a thing to be good’?”
This aim toward classical philosophy played a major role in Hillsdale College’s abolitionist pursuits before and during the Civil War. The school was founded in 1848, and Arnn argued that the classical philosophy of respecting humans because of their souls eliminated any concern over “skin color”:
Why not pick [students] by their color? Historical reason is rooted in something—classical reason of how we are able to ‘know.’ The human soul, which is the only thing that can understand what things are, is what defines humanity.
This view is directly opposed to the diversity, equity, and inclusion programs pervading modern American universities, which Arnn called “massively destructive” and akin to slavery because this emphasis on DEI rips away the natural curiosity and potential of every student by tying his or her human soul to the projected realities of skin color.
Hillsdale College recruits students in a not-so-subtly different way: Prospective students are told that a Hillsdale education is exceptionally difficult.
“Hillsdale College is very weird. If they’re lazy, we beat them,” Arnn joked to gales of laughter from the audience. “We recruit by telling students how hard it is. We tell them it’s hell—and that’s what they want. They want to achieve something. Growth is radically different from manufacturing.”
Arnn encourages another practice on Hillsdale’s campus that is starkly different from other American universities—he discourages political activism:
[Students] want to know things that are of permanent value—because they haven’t started their career yet. We don’t encourage, we discourage political activism. They don’t know anything yet. Once they do, they can approach [politics] intelligently.
We don’t care whether they’re conservative or liberal, they’re too young to know anything yet. They’re lost. Once at Hillsdale, they can think about it—figure it out.
Just under 3,000 students applied to Hillsdale College last year, up 1,000 from 2021 and double that of 2020. Currently, 1,515 students attend the college.
In closing, Arnn praised the administrations of two Republican governors, Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin, for placing education on the classical path in the hands of parents.
“Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin would not be the governors of their states, except for the rebellion of parents,” Arnn said.
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