Education, Tea Party — January 13, 2015 at 12:43 pm

UPDATED x2: Brighton-area religious conservative group moves closer to opening tea party-influenced public school


Last month I wrote about a conservative religious group attempting to open a charter school in Brighton, Michigan. The group was originally called the “American Christian Academies” then later rebranded themselves the “American Classical Academies”, retaining the ACA acronym.

The ACA was recently successful in getting the Brighton Area Schools to sell them one of their elementary school buildings for $1.45 million. More recently, their chief advocate on the BAS school board, Nick Fiani, resigned and is now running for position on the Livingston County intermediate school district board. In posts to his Facebook page, Fiani has cheered the ACA and their intent to implement the Hillsdale “classical education model”.

So far, the BAS has declined to charter the ACA’s proposed school. However, Trustee John Conely has kept the issue alive and at a meeting this week, called for “an investigation on the process”, suggesting that he hopes to help the ACA out in their effort to start a new charter school in Brighton based on the Hillsdale model. If Fiani were to become a board member on the intermediate school district board, it is safe to assume he would push for the ISD to charter the school if the BAS declines to do so.

So, what is the Hillsdale model? Not surprisingly, it’s got a very religious slant. Here is their Mission Statement:

Hillsdale Academy develops within its students the intellectual and personal habits and skills upon which responsible, independent and productive lives are built, in the firm belief that such lives are the basis of a free and just society. The Academy strives to offer enrichment and to develop character through both curricular and extracurricular offerings, to nurture the child’s humanity—spirit, mind, and body—with a constant view to the potential adult. The time-honored liberal arts curriculum and pedagogy direct student achievement toward mastery of the basics, exploration of the arts and sciences and understanding of the foundational tenets of our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman heritage.

The curriculum by purpose and design is a survey of the best spiritual, intellectual and cultural traditions of the West as they have been developed and refined over countless generations.

The religious aims of their model are also mentioned in their “Philosophy of Education” statement:

By providing moral and ethical standards, the Academy prepares its students to accept the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society that honors and respects its Maker. Every child is capable of achieving his potential to the fullest extent when afforded respect, fairness, kindness, discipline and appropriate instruction.

All of this is in line with the aims of ACA head Pasquale Battaglia whose Twitter timeline is typical of the most outspoken tea party types and is rife with tweets about religion, gun fetishism, liberal bashing, racism, and anti-Obama statements. In a post to the Brighton Tea Party website, Battaglia makes his intentions for the ACA very clear:

We will provide an education option tuition free working toward autonomy from the government and the government run public school systems…

In other words, they want to use our tax dollars to open a religious school disguised as a public school and then detach themselves from the public school system once they are up and running. Brighton-area resident Glenn Ikens was eloquent in a letter to the editor he wrote warning of the dangers of the BAS chartering the ACA school:

At this critical juncture, the citizens and taxpayers within the district must be made aware of the danger this potential alliance holds for our district’s reputation, indeed, its well being.

“Danger” is truly the proper term to characterize ACA’s inclusion in the BAS. ACA has a not-so-hidden political and social agenda it seeks to enact through its schools, agendas revealed in its professional associations and in the rhetoric of its most visible agent, Pat Battaglia. Mr. Battaglia routinely broadcasts views, via Twitter, that could only be categorized as pugnacious, undignified and offensive, especially as their source is a man who seeks to lead in the education our society’s children. Intolerant, insensitive, aggressive images and messages — targeting race, religion, political affiliation, gun violence and the lawful functioning of our elected government — dominate his tweets and retweets. More specific to the ACA, he has written open letters to his constituents in which he presents the ACA’s mission to infiltrate the public schools, using taxpayer funding to establish schools that will eventually sever all ties to governmental oversight, with the ultimate goal of abolishing public education as currently exists. He boasts that the ACA’s goal is to “inculcate” youth in proper values, suggesting the real end game is to influence future voters to support conservative religious and political causes. He even quotes Joseph Stalin as a guide in the proper use of education as a weapon to be wielded by those who control it against those they wish to conquer.

Such opinions and goals are indeed antithetical to the inclusive, open public education provided by our community schools in the true tradition of American public education.

In addition to his representation of ACA, its association with Responsive Educational Solutions, a Texas-based charter school corporation, is equally alarming. RES, identified as a possible managerial partner with ACA by a representative of ACA at a recent BAS board meeting, espouses a reactionary curriculum that pushes creationism as science, quoting the opening lines of Genesis in its science materials. The history text of RES asserts that American women have been victimized by the women’s movement, resulting in their becoming hapless dependents upon the federal government’s welfare programs.

If this group wants to open a school, more power to them. But they should NOT be allowed to do so with our tax dollars. They are little more than a thinly-veiled religious organization working to dismantle public education and to rebuild it in their own tea party-influenced worldview.

If you are in the Brighton area or live in Livingston County, be aware of what is happening and speak out if you value public education that is free from religion and political indoctrination. The American Christian Classical Academies have no place in our public school system. They have already received $100,000 of our tax money as a gift from our Republican legislature for the 2012-2013 school year for a similar proposed school in Warren that has not even been opened yet.

That is $100,000 too much and is an egregious misuse of our tax dollars.

UPDATE: As “Up North Progressive” mentions in the comments, Pasquale Battaglia attended Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat’s Bigotfest 2015 this past weekend and was part of a panel called “Free Market Education”. When our tea party friends start talking about education in terms of a free market, their profit motive is revealed in sharp relief. This is the same event when the Republican racist and homophobic bigot Dave Agema spoke to a receptive audience.

UPDATE 2: If you have any doubt that American Classical Academies is simply a rebranding of their previous iteration as the American Christian Academies, just have a look at this screenshot of their “At a Glance” page (click for a larger version):