UW School of Education Dean Diana Hess told Rotarians on September 7th that political education teaches students how to present their arguments and engage with people who have views different from their own. It helps students assess the difference between propaganda and the truth. It teaches them how to select strong leaders and develop opinions on issues. It also builds a healthy democracy and helps create meaningful solutions to today’s issues.
But because it’s not required, 30% of Wisconsin school districts don’t teach civics. Instead of engaging their kids in thoughtful analyses of multiple competing views, many parents want the curriculum to mirror their views. And many schools shy away from controversy, which is the lifeblood of democracy.
Hess believes we should double down on political education rather than quieting down. At a time when our democracy is at risk, our schools should be a building block of diverse thinking and not a mirror that reflects a community’s dominant political views.
She recommends teachers “Teach like democracy depends on it. Because it does!”
Our thanks to WisEye for videotaping our meeting this week. You can watch it here: WisEYE Sept 14
submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Pete Christianson
From left: Paul Ranola, Luke Fuszard and Rick Kiley
Luke Fuszard spoke to us this week on the decline of civics education, which he says places democracy at risk. Luke is a software engineer and has an MBA. No civics background. But he does have two children, and he is concerned about the decline in civics education.
In 1954 Kentucky required three years of history and civics, and students had to pass a very tough statewide exam. Only nine states today require any such education, and Wisconsin is not one of them. The result is a predictable widespread ignorance. Ninety-seven percent of immigrants taking the [relatively easy] citizenship exam pass it. Thirty-three percent of native citizens who take the same test fail it. For most of American history, it was generally believed that solid civics and history knowledge was needed for people to be good citizens. That seems no longer to be the case.
Two occasions seem to have sped this decline in interest: (1) Sputnik in 1957; (2) the 1983 report, “A Nation at Risk.” Both incentivized the teaching of math and science, and as these expanded, history and civics courses were reduced. Middleton and Wausau still have robust civics programs. Wisconsin has recently adopted a statewide civics exam, but it is online and can be taken multiple times. And in 2012, all federal funds were shifted away from civics or history to math and science.
Why are civics and history important? Many math majors will never be mathematicians. Many science majors will never be scientists. But everyone will eventually be a member of the body politic. Since 1776, hundreds of thousands of people have given their lives in defense of our freedom and our democracy. The least we can do is to lobby our legislators to support civics education. Much civic behavior is learned in childhood: We should pass on to our children our belief in the importance of being an educated citizen, able to make informed political decisions.
Our thanks to Wisconsin Eye for videotaping our meeting this week. You can watch the video here.