A New Home for the Hillsdale Academy

Scot Hicks
Headmaster, Hillsdale Academy

Scot HicksScot Hicks holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and Oxford’s Wadham College. He has taught at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, St. Stephens School in Rome, St. Paul’s School in New York, and CEFAM in Lyons. He has also served as the director of the American section of the Lycee International in Saint-Germainen-Laye and as director of studies and senior school head at the Campion School in Athens.

This October, a new multimillion-dollar facility for the Hillsdale Academy was dedicated. Established in 1990 by Hillsdale College, this K- 10 (soon to be K-12) school has become a model for Americans seeking true educational reform. Nearly 1,500 copies of its innovative curriculum outline, the Hillsdale Academy Reference Guide, have been sold or distributed, and more than 200 private schools and scores of home school parents and home school networks use the Guide in the classroom. Here are Headmaster Scot Hicks’ dedicatory remarks.


We are assembled here to dedicate a new home for the Hillsdale Academy. It is a very old custom, as old as the word “dedication” itself. The Latin dedicatio (the layman’s version of consecratio or consecration) describes an ancient ritual whereby the owner of a profane object—a door post, a table, a house—removed that object from the secular sphere where anyone could use it for any purpose and placed it in a sacred sphere where only authorized persons could use it for a specific purpose. A table or a block of marble, for instance, became an altar to be used only by the head of the household.

President Abraham Lincoln was faithful to this tradition when he presided over the dedication of a Gettysburg cemetery in 1863. Of course, he told the audience that “in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate— we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” But then he reminded his countrymen that there was an important contribution they could make: They could dedicate themselves to the principles of freedom for which the Union soldiers at Gettysburg fought.

Today, we are here to dedicate ourselves to the same principles of freedom and to the vision that has made the Hillsdale Academy possible. What is that vision? Perhaps the best way to sum it up is to repeat the words of the song our students and teachers sing at the close of Morning Prayer:

’Tis a gift to be simple,
’Tis a gift to be free,
’Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be…
[Where] to bow and bend we shan’t be ashamed,
[And] by turning, turning, we come round right.

School is a simple business—if you stick to business. How well are we are sticking to business at the Hillsdale Academy? Here is what I see and hear on any given day. There is the excitement inspired by the kindergarteners’ morning inspection of an anthill’s tunnels, chambers, guard ants, and nurse ants. There is Mrs. Steiner, who interrupts a story about Christopher Columbus to gently remind one young listener about disturbing his neighbor. There is the intensity of a mid-afternoon spelling bee in Mrs. Sommerville’s classroom, as expressed by knit brows and rocking cordovan loafers.

There is the gleeful laugh of Chris before he puts away another challenger at tetherball. There is the ninth graders’ thoughtful discussion of Greek notions of justice after Mr. Knowlton collects their homework assignments on Edith Hamilton’s classic account of the fall of the House of Atreus. There is the third graders’ display of how to produce written work in time-tested stages: idea generation, outline, rough draft, editing, proofreading.

There is the exuberant fourth grader who is admonished to retrace his steps in order to demonstrate that it can be done without making a disturbance. There is the lively debate over character flaws in literary heroes in Miss Webb’s seventh and eighth grade English class. There is the amazingly well-equipped chemistry lab, which even has sophisticated graphing calculators that the high schoolers use to record solution temperature changes over time. Finally, at the end of the day, there is high school locker clean-up detail with Jon, Jake, and Travis.

It sounds simple, and so it should. Unfortunately, many of our nation’s schools have forgotten, and they have not stuck to their business. Perhaps this is because America has become a jaded society that no longer has a taste for simple things and that tends to equate freedom with license. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato warned us just how dangerous this is:

[When liberty becomes the highest Good] the insatiable desire for this good to the neglect of everything else may transform a democracy. A democratic state may fall under the influence of unprincipled leaders, ready to minister to its thirst for liberty with too deep draughts of this heady wine…Law-abiding citizens will be insulted as nonentities who hug their chains; and all praise and honor will be bestowed, both publicly and in private, on rulers who behave like subjects and subjects who behave like rulers. In such a state, the spirit of liberty is bound to go to all lengths. It will make its way into the home, until at last the very animals catch the infection of anarchy. The parent falls into the habit of behaving like the child and the child like the parent…[T]he schoolmaster timidly flatters his students, and the students make light of their teachers.

Right now, in this special place and at this special moment in time, let us dedicate ourselves to principles of freedom that imply as much responsibility and discipline as they do independence and choice. Let us pursue and teach the simple things, especially in our schools, where the young form lasting impressions of the world and their place in it. Then, we will be intent not so much on progressing as on turning, ’til by turning, we come round right.