Friday, April 28, 2023

PA: Hillsdale Comes To Pennridge

“Our end goal is that every single kid who leaves Pennridge loves this country and understands our constitution,” said board member Ricki Chaikin. “Right now, that’s not happening.”

That's a board member of Pennridge schools, a district that just okayed a contract with Vermilion Education, LLC. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, that's because the company was the center of a controversy just a few weeks ago when the Sarasota, FL, board considered (and ultimately rejected) a contract with the education consulting firm. Who are these guys (or, perhaps, this guy)?

The Sarasota board considered board a contract with Vermilion Education, LLC . If Vermilion's website seems a little sparse, that's because they have only been operating for a few months. Their promises and principles are suitably vague-- I mean, here's the whole pitch --

The address Vermilion lists on the Sarasota contract proposals is a single family home (1640 square feet) in a residential neighborhood of Hillsdale. And their personnel--well, so far, it looks like one guy.

That guy is Jordan Adams, fresh from Hillsdale. There's a lot of story with Hillsdale (here's a short-ish version or get into it more heavily with a whole series of articles), but the current version is a private right-wing christianist college whose head, Larry Arnn ("Teaching is our trade; also, I confess, it's our weapon"), is the same MAGA-fied guy who headed up Trump's 1776 Education thingy (and said teachers are the dumbest). They've provided a platform for a lot of school privatization and taxpayer subsidies for private christian school rhetoric from heavy hitters like Betsy DeVos and Christopher Rufo, all arguing that government shouldn't be running schools--churches should.

Hillsdale has long had a charter school initiative called the Barney Charter Schools, and more recently they've been behind the launch of many "classical" academies around the country.

Jordan Adams is a Hillsdale grad ('13), which means he was a Hillsdale student when they were launching the Barney schools, and eventually became their Associate Director of Instructional Resources. I'll let you draw your own conclusion about his fitness for the role:

“I mostly focus on the history and Latin curricula, figuring out how things are taught in a fourth-grade or eleventh-grade classroom,” said Adams. He looks forward to experimenting with more accessible resources for teachers: “When you’re a first-year teacher, you’re just trying to stay one day ahead of what you’re supposed to be teaching. You don’t have time to sit down and read a long text about teaching. But maybe if there’s a short video that is clearly titled and easy to access, you might conceivably watch it while you’re making dinner.”

If only there were a place to go where you could study teaching so that you knew what you were doing on more than a day by day basis. Adams's original undergrad plan was to work at a think tank, then he went to grad school for a Masters of Humanities. One more educational amateur rediscovering the wheel. But apparently reinvented it well enough to move up to interim director of curriculum for the Hillsdale College K-12 Education Office, a job he was holding back in October of 2022.

Adams was part of the crew that screened the Florida math textbooks that DeSantis accused of being too indoctrinatey.

Adams is no longer listed in any current capacity as employed by Hillsdale, though there is no peep about his departure. Not sure what we can make of that.

As was the case in Sarasota, Pennridge added the Vermilion contract to the agenda 24 hours before the meeting,

Pennridge School District is located in the Southeast, just north of Philly, in Bucks County. Their board has been pretty relentless in pursuing repressive and reactionary policies. They have trouble telling creationism from science. They banned Banned Books Week. They tried to clamp down on student expression. And they blew up DEI policies (even as they demonstrated why they needed such policies in place). And they are considering Hillsdale's ideological, biased and not very great 1776 Curriculum (Hillsdale is presided over by Larry Arrn, the guy that Donald Trump appointed to create an anti-1619 curriculum). 

As was the case in Sarasota, it's not really clear what Adams and Vermilion are supposed to do, and since they appear to have no previous track record (the site is still nearly bare and there's no sign anywhere that they have any previous contracts). It's still not clear how close Adams ties to Hillsdale remain. But now the taxpayers of Pennridge get to pay for Adams to do something, for some amount of money, to be completed sometime. Good luck to them. 

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