Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a much greater focus by parents and concerned citizens on what is being taught in schools around the country. For the first time, many parents were exposed to what was being taught to their children, and they didn’t like what they found. Horror stories abound, from students being taught that conservatives are “ignorant and poor” at a high school in Sparta, Wisconsin,[i] to school districts around the country using the 1619 Project as a means of teaching American history.[ii] The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s previous work on this topic[iii] has shown that these are not isolated incidents. Instead, this sort of politically divisive rhetoric in K-12 schools is quite pervasive, from the biggest cities, to the smallest towns. While we can document that these problems are occurring in schools, the question remains–how did we reach this situation?
In this policy brief, we will begin to answer this question by showing that Wisconsin’s teachers don’t always push a liberal agenda purely of their own volition. Instead, we will show that the controversial material spilling into schools today is the result of an indoctrination process that begins when teachers are enrolled in universities around the state. We use the word “indoctrination,” here, and throughout this brief, not solely because future teachers are presented with politically charged materials during their college educations, but because these materials are presented from only one political perspective, and in a manner that preempts and forecloses healthy debate and conversation about these contested political issues.
For this report, we collected syllabi from courses for education majors at all of the University of Wisconsin’s four-year public colleges. In 2020, the University of Wisconsin System graduated approximately 2,000 students majoring in various education programs.[iv] While we cannot gather data from private universities in the state via open records requests, we can safely say that the schools from which we have gathered data represents courses taken by roughly 80% of all education graduates in the state for recent years.
The Process of Becoming a Teacher
In order to better understand why the examples we discuss below matter, it is important to first understand the path that many Wisconsin teachers take to enter the classroom. For would-be teachers at the middle school level, candidates are required to attend a number of classes focused on the process of teaching, along with some classes in the areas that they will teach. For instance, to earn a degree in Elementary and Middle Education at UW-Milwaukee, students must complete 18 credits of courses ostensibly focused on learning how to teach, in addition to 15 credits in their concentration areas (social studies, math, natural sciences, or English/Language Arts).[v]
The concentration area classes are taught outside of the Education Department. For instance, an education student with a focus on social studies would take a history class with history majors. The education classes are taught within the Education Department and include courses like the “Cultural Foundations of Education” and “Introduction to Learning and Development.” Our open records requests were focused on these mandatory foundational classes in the Education Department, rather than those in their concentration area departments, as those tend to be quite broad and would require requests beyond the scope of this project.
Accordingly, WILL used open records requests to obtain syllabus documents from all 13 four-year University of Wisconsin System campuses. We requested, from each school, syllabi for courses that were either required or an option to fulfill a degree requirement for their versions of the early, elementary, or otherwise primary education majors. Courses were selected by WILL for syllabi review upon the basis that they fulfilled a requirement for the education major, and appeared, according to the title of the course, to present woke ideology. We requested the syllabi of between three to seven courses from each campus.
Examples of College-Level Indoctrination
Virtually all University of Wisconsin System schools require K-12 education majors to complete one or more courses concerning “equity and inclusion,” “culturally relevant pedagogy,” “diversity in childhood,” etc. Such classes may appear copacetic to the training of teachers who will work with children and families from all walks of life, but the pretense for these courses, in fact, conceals an ulterior, political motive. This is evident when examining the readings, materials, and objectives found directly within the syllabi for these classes.
The following section details a representative sampling of such items from several University of Wisconsin courses at all of its campuses, which were obtained via open records requests by WILL. The sad reality is that the course items mentioned here only represent a portion of what was uncovered. An interactive appendix detailing every controversial material uncovered can be found above.
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, K-9 education majors must complete a class in the “Cultural Foundations of Education.” For this course, prospective teachers must read the works Pedagogy of the Oppressed,[vi] and Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education;[vii] articles such as “Playing with Gender,”[viii] “When the Gender Boxes Don’t Fit,”[ix] and “How to be an Antiracist Educator;”[x] and watch the video “It’s Elementary, Talking About Gay Issues in School.”[xi] Listed among this course’s learning objectives are that prospective teachers “understand how poverty, racism, & discrimination affect learning . . . and acknowledg[e] that one’s assumptions about diverse cultures & communities may marginalize students and negatively impact their learning.”
Figure 1 Required Reading for UW-Milwaukee Students
The book Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere is one of the foundational texts of teaching styles conscious of so-called “domination and oppression” in the western education system and wider society. Friere describes the traditional relationship between teachers and students as a master-slave relationship, whereby the teacher subordinates their students by projecting a state of absolute ignorance onto them, and attributing to themselves a state of absolute knowing. By framing the traditional relationship between teachers and students in this manner, and then attacking it, Friere advances an education model in which students and teachers are placed on equal footing with respect to knowledge: both are meant to be students and teachers to one another. This framework provides a basis for the agenda that students ought to be fostered by teachers in any and all non-conforming expressions of identity, as it is, under Friere’s theory, the role of the teacher to be taught by the student on such matters of personal identity.
At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, elementary and middle school education majors must take a course titled “Working with Children and Families in a Diverse Society.” Included in the required readings for this class is a chapter from the book “A Guide to LGBTQ+ Inclusion on Campus, Post-PULSE”[xii] entitled “Just Another Gay Day in the Campus Three-Year-Old Room.”
Figure 2 Required Reading for UW-Whitewater Students
The selected chapter for student reading, “Just Another Gay Day in the Campus Three-Year-Old Room,” sounds ludicrous, but it means exactly what it says. This chapter discusses how strategies to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion ought to be implemented at “multiple layers of campus life,” even in “lessons with a three-year-old day care center.” It is hard for the authors of this brief to understand what teaching three-year-olds about sexual and gender identity contributes to proper or desirable child care. Investigative reporters have exposed how schools have begun to push such initiatives in recent years, finding that they task teachers with ominously discriminating between their students on the basis of several facets of their identity.[xiii]
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, two classes struck us as particularly woke in their content. The first was a required course for elementary education majors, “Education Policy Studies.” Readings span The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education,[xiv] Despite the Best of Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools,[xv] Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools,[xvi] “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools,”[xvii] and “Supporting Transgender and Gender-Expansive Children in Schools.”[xviii] Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the book discussed earlier as being taught at UW-Milwaukee, appears in this course as well. Students in this class at UW-Madison are also asked to listen to the first episode of “Nice White Parents,”[xix] a podcast which lays blame for public school inequalities at the feet of white parents who, according to the podcast, nearly universally attempt to keep their kids out of schools with substantial black populations. In the learning outcomes for this course, students are meant to “have some insight into the experience of schooling for students from different identity groups, and ideally; [sic] have formed [their] own opinions about how to reform the system of American education.”
One of the readings mentioned in the previous paragraph was Despite the Best of Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools. Like other works written under the spell of Critical Race Theory, this book pushes the notion that “structures of inequality” are determinative in the “day-to-day racial dynamics” of people’s lives, including “in the school and community.” This is problematic, because it teaches future educators to see students and parents through a dehumanizing, racial lens. In the view of this book, students are not just individuals; they are products of racial privilege, or racial inequality. Parents, too, are not just individuals; they are lifelong wielders of racial power or lifelong victims of racial oppression. This book asserts that the existence of inequality of outcome between races on some metrics proves an inequality of opportunity, or unequal treatment. It is a basic understanding of ethical social science that one must not equate correlation to causation. The authors of Despite the Best of Intentions advance a racially divisive, socially damaging theory on the grounds of no credible evidence. Regardless, UW-Madison students seemingly read this book without being presented with this crucial understanding.
The second course of note at UW-Madison is the “History of American Education.” This class sees students reading the book Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities,[xx] as well as several articles, including “Denial Is the Heartbeat of America,”[xxi] “If You Skip the Vaccine, It Is My ‘Damn Business,’”[xxii]“The Hidden Stakes of the 1619 Controversy,”[xxiii] and “‘The Whole United States is Southern!’ Brown v. Board and the Mystification of Race.”[xxiv] A component of the course description is discussion of “[how] socially constructed categories such as race and gender [have] influenced education.”
Figure 3 Required Reading for UW-Madison Students
As a whole, the readings in this class at UW-Madison are highly influenced by identity politics. Some of these texts suggest that the history of American education is solely a story of oppression, and that, despite the lack of any laws promoting outright discrimination against minorities on the books in America today, that systems of oppression still rule the lives of all minorities. While there are, of course, historical inequalities in the U.S. education system that certain groups feel more deeply than others, this fact alone is not an adequate excuse for representing modern American education, which is thoroughly focused on battling inequality, as still designed to oppress historically disadvantaged groups. Nevertheless, this course demands prospective teachers address these long-gone “systems of oppression” in schooling in their K-12 classrooms through present-day, racially-motivated action. These teachers, therefore, initiate the very racial discrimination they suppose they are combatting. In the words of Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”[xxv]
At the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, both early childhood and elementary education majors must take a course titled “Pluralism.” An innocuous sounding class, this required course has future teachers read a portion of While Fragility[xxvi] by Robin DiAngelo and Antiracist Baby[xxvii] by Ibram X. Kendi.
Figure 4 Required reading for UW-Stevens Point students
DiAngelo, a former professor and current instructor on racial justice, is a leading proponent of diversity training in schools and the workplace. Her book White Fragility serves as the ideological basis for her training method. John McWhorter, a Columbia University professor of linguistics, writing for The Atlantic, describes her book as a guide for “how to be racist in a whole new way.”[xxviii] Kendi, a professor at Boston University, is a leading advocate for the concept of Critical Race Theory. His philosophy runs counter to the prevailing narrative of American history that effort and hard work can lead to success, instead attributing virtually every disparity between African Americans and whites in American society to racism.[xxix] Instead of Martin Luther King’s vision of a society where we judge people by their character and not their skin color, Antiracist Baby instead promotes seeing skin color, and that claiming to be colorblind is “denying what’s right in front of you.”[xxx]
At the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, elementary education students must complete a course in “Education Policy: Truths and Myths.” This course is replete with a woke political agenda. Students read the text Education Policy for Social Change,[xxxi] the articles “Bringing Black Lives Matter Into the Classroom,”[xxxii] “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,”[xxxiii] and “8 Ways to Teach Climate Change in Almost Any Classroom.”[xxxiv]Students in a section of this course at Oshkosh also had 10% of their grade evaluated on the basis of a so-called “identity poem” asking them to write about their “gender, race, ethnicity, language background, country of origin…” etc., among other aspects of their identity. Course objectives include “understand[ing] the politics of power and control in U.S. education at the state, and federal levels” and “Analyz[ing] how identity is constructed and shaped by cultural heritage as well as patterns of power and privilege.”
The article on how to teach climate change in classrooms highlights a central pattern of the materials in these courses. There is no opportunity provided to question whether, in fact, climate change is occurring and human-caused. Rather, we start from the position that we must accept the prevailing narrative on the issue. It is not the presentation of controversial material that is problematic in most cases, but rather the setting of the parameters of debate that deny a voice to those with alternative viewpoints. The lack of willingness to have open, honest debate on the topic of climate change is well documented,[xxxv] and it is worrying to see schools that purport to offer quality, university-level education, offer, instead, one-sided political dogma.
At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, early childhood education majors must take a course in “Multiculturalism: Dialogue & Field Experience.” Readings for this class include the textbook Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning: Classroom Practices for Student Success,[xxxvi] and the articles “Moving Beyond Tolerance in Education,”[xxxvii] “An Education in Diversity,”[xxxviii] and “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”[xxxix] Student learning objectives include “Examin[ing] and critiqu[ing] the nature and effects of political economies such as colonialism and slavery, and specific socially constructed and discriminatory discourses such as race/racism, whiteness, poverty, class/classism, gender/sexism, sexual orientation/homophobia, different abilities/ableism in the field of education and beyond,” and to “Identify to what extent educational systems, within a global framework, reflect equity and equal educational opportunity through a critical examination of hegemony in the form of culture, race, social class, gender and sexual orientation, and the impact of racism, prejudice, classism, sexism, and homophobia.”
Peggy McIntosh’s article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is a foundational text for identity politics. A short article, it comprises a list of 26 items that the author says are unearned privileges received on the basis of white skin, which most white people tend not to take notice of. As examples, two of these items, which McIntosh states only white people can take for granted, include the ability to be “pretty sure that my neighbors . . . will be neutral or pleasant to me,” and to be “pretty sure that if I ask to talk to ‘the person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race.” The wrongheadedness of such assertions is obvious, almost without comment. First, it is true to say that, of all 26 items in McIntosh’s list, none of them have anything to do with being white, per se, but rather with being a member of a majority race in a country. In China, most of McIntosh’s items would apply to Chinese people; in Tunisia, to Tunisians; and in Bolivia, to Bolivians. Second, and more importantly, it reflects only McIntosh’s own world view that she accounts most of her items as “privileges” linked to race. There is no clear connection between the friendliness of one’s neighbors and one’s race, and it is unclear, unless one is racist, why speaking to a manager of one’s own race would be considered a desirable privilege. The fact that these ideas are presented to future teachers is a clear attempt to indoctrinate them with a worldview and political ideology that injects race as a factor into situations where it is not present, and should not be present.
At the University of Wisconsin-Superior, elementary education majors must take the course “Multicultural Education.” Among the materials for this class is the text Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask,[xl] a self-assessment entitled the “Human Relations Attitude Inventory,”[xli] the articles “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race,”[xlii] “Majoring in Minstrelsy: White Students, Blackface and the Failure of Mainstream Multiculturalism,”[xliii] and the videos “Race: The Power of an Illusion,”[xliv] and “The 51st State: America’s Working Poor.”[xlv] “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” which we highlighted previously, is also taught for this course. In the learning outcomes for this class, students are meant to “Describe the psychological and social implications of discrimination, especially racism and sexism in the American society and apply to classroom situations,” as well as “Evaluate and assess the forces of discrimination, especially racism and sexism on faculty, students, curriculum, instruction, and assessment in the school program.”
The survey “Human Relations Attitude Inventory” is used at the start of this course as a self-assessment for all of its students prior to beginning the class. It is a scale that asks direct and explicit questions about attitudes toward “race, gender, and social class.” All questions are answered on a 5-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree, and there are 64 items. Items include “Homosexuality is unnatural because it is contrary to human nature,” “Most white people in our society are not aware of their racist attitudes,” “We should not notice differences in people’s skin color,” “Most feminists are just too sensitive about sexism,” and “Whites are just as likely to be victims of racism as racial minorities.” The implication of this inventory is that certain responses to these questions are homophobic, sexist, racist, etc.; and the hope is that, by the end of this class, students will have learned to answer these items in a manner that they have been trained to by the course. This is a particularly egregious activity, because it doesn’t teach students to think critically and improve their own ability to discern truth, but instead teaches them that they must think in one way–and even worse–about political issues. It is difficult to imagine an activity that fits the definition of indoctrination more clearly than this exercise.
At the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, all K-12 education majors are made to take the course “Equity Education & Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in the Multicultural Classroom.” Required readings for this course include Becoming a Multicultural Educator: Developing Awareness, Gaining Skills, and Taking Action,[xlvi] and Dancing with a Ghost: Exploring Aboriginal Reality.[xlvii] Some of the weekly lessons for this class are entitled “Systemic Racism and Education,” “Racial Identity Development and Education,” “Understanding Gender and Sexuality,” and “The Transgender Experience and Multicultural Education.” Course goals include “Understand[ing] the relationship of human diversity, power, and educational inequality in the United States and the consequences for the lives of many,” and “Develop[ing] skills to implement the principles of multicultural education in the classroom.”
Figure 5 Required Reading for UW-Platteville Students
Even beyond the readings, the lessons and course goals in this class at Platteville are alarming. Future teachers are being molded through these lessons to view American education in a politically charged way, and are encouraged, via the course goals, to “develop skills” to bring these politics into the classroom with young children. We find it unlikely that many parents – perhaps any parents – drop their kids off at school each day in the hopes that teachers will impose a political agenda onto their children.
At the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, K-9 education majors are required to complete the course “Exploring Schooling in Grades K-12.” In this class, future teachers read articles such as “White Teachers Need to See Color: Here’s Why,”[xlviii] “Creating Classrooms for Equity and Justice,”[xlix] and “Decolonizing the Classroom,”[l] as well as the textbook “Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning.”[li] Course goals include “creat[ing] a context for learning addressing diversity in a classroom” and “demonstrat[ing] growth and understanding of culturally sustaining pedagogies and how to apply them in the classroom.”
Figure 6 Required Reading for UW-Eau Claire Students
Similar to the discussion of the work of Ibram Kendi discussed above, the article “White Teachers Need to See Color: Here’s Why” seeks to undermine much of the racial progress that has been made in the United States dating back to the 1960s. Without any sense of irony, the article states that “color blindness erases student individuality in the educational space.” Saying that race is not a defining factor for a person is a “microaggression,” and teachers are encouraged to allow minority students opportunities to broadcast their racial and ethnic identities. Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic, argues that denigrating color blindness and teaching people that race is a defining factor in life “fetishize[s]” race in a way that “ro[bs] people of their individuality.”[lii] In other words, the ostensible “anti-racists” engage in behaviors that are almost indistinguishable from that of actual racists.
At the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, all education majors, of any stripe, must take the course “Multicultural Education.” Readings in this class include two textbooks, Readings for Diversity and Social Justice[liii] and Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education.[liv] Course objectives include references to “culturally relevant pedagogical communication techniques” and “recogniz[ing] cultural biases in teaching and learning materials.”
Figure 7 Required Reading for UW-La Crosse Students
An investigation into the book Readings for Diversity and Social Justice reveals that it is little more than a grab-bag full of essays pushing Critical Race Theory, as well as the broader movement of radical identity politics. A small sampling of the essays selected for this textbook include “Microaggressions, Marginality, and Oppression: An Introduction” by Derald Wing Sue, “Five Faces of Oppression” by Iris Marion Young, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing” by Andrea Smith, “Overcompensation Nation: It’s Time to Admit That Toxic Masculinity Drives Gun Violence” by Amanda Marcotte, the “Trans Woman Manifesto” by Julia Serano, and “Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender” by Patricia Hill Collins. The degree and depth of ideological indoctrination contained within this textbook, a required reading for future teachers studying at La Crosse, is staggering.
At the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, two courses are of particular note. The first is a mandatory seminar for elementary education majors, “Exploring Children’s Worlds in the Classroom.” Among required, selected readings for this seminar can be found the text Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City,[lv] and the articles “The ‘Thumbprint of the Culture’: Implicit Bias and Police Shootings”[lvi] and “Ten Things White People Need to Quit Saying.”[lvii] One of this seminar’s objectives is to “discuss advantages and disadvantages of students’ backgrounds, behaviors, and communication styles and how this affects best teaching practices.”
From this seminar course, the article “Ten Things White People Need to Quit Saying” concerns a laundry list of words and phrases the author thinks white people should not use, such as the words “exotic” or “ethnic,” and the phrase “I don’t see color.” The author also provides instructions for how white people ought to understand race. Specifically, the article defines racism as “the abuse of power and privilege.” The article goes on to say, “if your race denies you power and privilege, then you can’t be racist.” Remember, this is an article assigned in a required seminar for future teachers. The prospect of a moralizing teacher telling a white third grader that, on the basis of their skin color, they are uniquely tainted with the ability to be racist, whereas their Hispanic, black, or Native American friends cannot be, is enough to make one shudder.
The second required course of note is “Context and Culture in Learning Environments.” Readings comprise Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education[lviii] and Culturally Proficient Instruction: A Guide for People Who Teach.[lix] Students in this course have 10% of their grade evaluated upon an “equity audit” assignment (explanation for this assignment in the next paragraph), and are also assigned to write a “racial narrative.” The syllabus received by WILL, unfortunately, does not define what a “racial narrative” is, however. One of the learning outcomes for the course is to “discuss how privilege and social power play a systemic role in how culture is practiced.”
Regarding this course, the “equity audit” making up a tenth of student grades is of special note. This assignment has students “analyz[ing] classrooms and a school… to examine understandings of equity within and across curriculum, classroom management, procedures, learning processes, and school policies.” This assignment carries an unmistakable lesson. Prospective teachers are trained to see the implementation of “equity,” a politically charged buzzword which demands looking at the school program through a racial, gendered, and sexuality-oriented lens, as a necessity, and a positive goal for teaching at the K-12 level.
At the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, a course in “Mentoring for Equity and Inclusion” is one of three options to fulfill a requirement for early to middle childhood education students. This class has future teachers read the texts Safe is Not Enough: Better Schools for LGBTQ Students[lx] and Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope[lxi] by Bell Hooks, a notable woke scholar; as well as the articles “Empathy, Teacher Dispositions, and Preparation for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy,”[lxii] and “‘Maybe that Concept is Still with Us’: Adolescents’ Racialized and Classed Perceptions of Teachers’ Expectations.”[lxiii] Learning objectives for the course include the ability for students to “explain how interlocking systems of oppression, including but not limited to: race, class, gender, national origin, refugee status, ability, and language, shape student experiences in primary, secondary, and tertiary education” and that they “reflect on their own position in this system.”
Figure 8 Required Reading for UW-Green Bay Students
The central thesis of Safe is not Enough: Better Schools for LGBTQ Students is that schools must go further than simply preventing the bullying of LGBTQ students. Instead, author Michael Sadowski argues that teachers must bring conversation about gender and sexual identity into the classroom, encourage advocacy, and foster the LGBTQ identification of young students. Contrary to what Sadowski suggests, there is little need to introduce such concepts of sexuality that students, particularly younger students, are likely not even aware of yet. Teaching reading materials such as Sadowski’s book to future teachers is therefore incredibly disquieting. Such fostering of a child’s sexuality or gender identity is, patently, not the role of a primary or secondary school teacher.
At the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, elementary education specialists must take “Foundations of Diversity and Equity in Education.” This class requires students to read the text Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice[lxiv] and watch a video concerning “Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education.”[lxv] Among this course’s objectives for students is to “describe your own life experiences and how you engaged and supported diversity and equity in society,” “understand the difference between equity and equality; implicit and explicit bias, as it applies to educational experiences,” and to “decide how you will address issues of diversity and equity in your future teaching environments.”
Figure 9 Required Reading for UW-River Falls Students
Perhaps the most important detail to draw out from our information on River Falls is the exhortation in the course objectives to “decide how you will address issues of diversity and equity in your future teaching environments.” Whether stated explicitly or not in their respective course syllabi, all of the foregoing courses are not merely academic, or theoretical endeavors. They each carry a direct call to action to future teachers–that they implement the sort of identity-based political ideology supported by their college training in the classroom with their young students. This ought to give all citizens pause, and cause them to reflect on what exactly we want our primary and secondary schools to teach our children.
Once again, these courses on “equity,” “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” “culturally relevant pedagogy,” etc., sound innocuous enough on their face; but, in reality, have been something of a Trojan Horse for a wide variety of policies and instructional narratives with potentially harmful effects. For example, based upon the narrative that differences in suspension rates among students of different races can only be the result of racism in school discipline policies, schools around Wisconsin and the nation have dramatically reduced suspension rates. Work by WILL[lxvi] and others[lxvii] has found that these lenient policies lead to students and teachers feeling less safe in the classroom—a necessary prerequisite for learning to take place.
This debate can also serve to undermine notions of the potential virtue in capitalistic systems. While we should never pretend that every individual starts out with the same advantages, there has always been a narrative in the United States that hard work and effort can lead to success. Such concepts are the foundations the “American Dream.” Those promoting some conceptions of equity, diversity, multiculturalism, etc., however, make the case that individuals from certain circumstances must be given a “leg-up” in order to succeed in the United States. This runs counter to some of the best research that shows a significant share of Americans still earn more than their parents did, even if there has been some stagnation in recent years in upward economic mobility.[lxviii] Telling students that their family income, race, gender, sexuality, etc., is determinative of, or a primary factor in, their life outcomes, serves to undermine motivation for success, and may, to some extent, be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The material from these required courses for K-12 education majors from all of the University of Wisconsin’s campuses evinces a pattern. Endemic to the education K-12 teachers in Wisconsin receive is outright indoctrination into radical racial, gender, sexuality, and identity politics. While universities have every right to study and discuss any works, topics, or theories they choose, the degree to which teacher education is politically controversial, and uniformly bent toward one political view is highly concerning. Moreover, there is evident intent, from the assignments and learning objectives listed by these courses, that students seeking to become teachers are taught to implement these identity-based theories and ideas in their K-12 classrooms. This means discussing racial politics, gender politics, sexual identity, transgenderism, ahistorical anti-American history, and culturally revolutionary ideas with children as young as five or six years old, up to seniors in high school preparing for college.
K-12 teachers are meant to provide our children with the groundwork for an academic education, not indoctrinate them into political ideologies. The inculcation of political and moral values in children is primarily the purview of parents, not the state via public schooling. As such, there is a manifest need for some initiative to right the ship of Wisconsin’s public education system.
The reality that college professors tend to be aligned with the left is not a phenomenon unique to education departments. A 2020 survey found that approximately 48% of professors are registered as Democrats compared with about 6% who are registered as Republicans.[lxix] Given the share of respondents who express no affiliation, this may even under-represent the gap. Changing the partisan makeup of university faculty would be an extremely long play—and not one with a high chance of success. Additionally, WILL has long been an advocate for academic freedom at the university level,[lxx] and recognizes that attempts to curtail some of the most egregious examples of liberal indoctrination here may be met with even stronger attempts to limit the academic freedom of the small minority of conservative professors.
The solution here, then, lies in increasing the vigilance of parents and school boards in recognizing problematic materials and pushing back against them. This report aims to increase recognition that from the smallest town to the largest city or suburb, most Wisconsin teachers are coming to the classroom after four years of having some of the most extreme, radical left-wing conceptions of the world foisted upon them. Innocuous labels for such concepts like “anti-racism,” “equity,” or “multiculturalism,” may mean that a large number of these teachers do not even realize the extent of their political indoctrination. The evidence here is strong enough to suggest that indoctrination towards liberal ideologies in university education departments in Wisconsin is ubiquitous.
Another potential avenue for change is via teacher licensure reforms that provide more opportunities for individuals who have not gone through traditional teacher prep programs to get into the classroom. WILL has written extensively[lxxi] about the need to streamline the process for individuals with valuable life experiences, but not necessarily a background in education, to teach in Wisconsin. This has often been presented as a pathway to alleviating the current teacher shortage, but may also represent a way around licensing solely those teachers who have received indoctrination in colleges of education. A system that helps people of varied experiences, not just those with an education degree from a college program, to teach K-12, should be adopted.
Additionally, another way of reducing the amount of political indoctrination prospective teachers receive is to petition the Wisconsin legislature to rewrite the language of Section 118.19(8) of the Wisconsin Statutes, which mandates that the Department of Public Instruction grants teacher licenses only to those who have “received instruction in the study of minority group relations.” Under these auspices, Wisconsin’s universities claim that many of the courses mentioned in this report are necessary to fulfil this study requirement. This language is vague and broad, and has allowed schools to move beyond the sort of cultural awareness that is likely beneficial to teachers in the classroom, in favor of pushing a political agenda. The legislature should reword this section to remove the ambiguity.
Finally, it is our hope that one more solution may lay in WILL’s Restoring American Education project, which seeks to provide a second option for parents and school boards, as well as for teachers who want alternatives to the pervasive liberal agenda in modern education. This report shows how deeply ingrained radically liberal political agendas are in education, and how laser-focused efforts must be to effectively push back.
Will Flanders, PhD
Dylan M. Palmer, Policy Intern