Written by Laurel White
Faculty, programs, and alumni of the UW-Madison School of Education have been featured in several stories this fall about how teachers are handling teaching around elections amid mounting political polarization and scrutiny of teachers.
Diana Hess, dean of the College of Education and an expert in civics, provided her insights into the challenges of the current political moment in In-depth cover story From Cap Times.
“People often say, ‘Well, I want the schools in my community to reflect my views, like I want them to mirror my views,’” Hess said. “We shouldn’t want that. We should want schools to be a place where young people learn how to make decisions about important questions to which there are multiple, competing answers.”
The Cap Times story, published the day after the election, also offered insight from Jeremy Stoddard, professor and faculty chair in the College of Education’s secondary education program. The story highlighted one of Stoddard’s recent research projects, An interactive educational tool called PurpleState. PurpleState allows students to act as a political advisor by manipulating real-world data and creating an information campaign. The simulation aims to shed light on the inner workings of political messaging and promote a deeper understanding of some of the underlying causes of political polarization.
In the story, Stoddard talks about learning outcomes at PurpleState.
“When (students) see an advertisement or when they see a news story in their Instagram feed or wherever they get it from, they are more aware of, why do they see it?” Stoddard explained. “They ask these questions, why do you show up?”
Susan Ecks, the Susan S. Engletter Professor of Education Law, Policy, and Practice in the College of Education, also offered her expertise on laws related to teachers’ rights to free speech in the classroom. As the story goes, Ickes spoke about the issue in a session at the “Teaching About the 2022 Elections” conference, hosted by the Office of Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE) at UW-Madison in September.
Stoddard and his work have also been shown at Story of the Wisconsin Journalpublished on November 22, aTeaching politics and elections bout.
“With schools we have the opportunity to combat some of the things that polarize,” Stoddard said in that story.
Both the Cap Times and State Journal stories featured two College of Education graduates, Casey Farner and Luke Piwoni, who are currently working as high school teachers in Wisconsin. Farner and Piwoni provide insights and examples from recent classroom experiences.
“The volume has been turned up quite a bit in politics,” Peoni told the Cap Times, since he began teaching 15 years ago. He said it increased his focus on the issues and getting to know his class ahead of potentially heated conversations.
“You’ll know if some issues really come up, you just have to take a step back for a minute, and think about how we’re going to handle this where we can actually have a good conversation and at the very least bring up multiple points of view,” Peoni said. “Then the students can then take that information and decide whether they agree with certain things, disagree with them, or if they have a better solution.”
Varner told the State Journal that his students “have done a wonderful job simply because they remember that they have a voice, they will have a voice, and their one vote means just as much as mine one, as much as the neighborhood vote.”
“And I think that’s powerful for them,” he said.
Read the full Cap Times story over here And the full story of the state magazine over here.
Hess has also appeared in WKOW’s “Capital City Sunday” in September. She talked about the value of high-quality teaching about elections.