This report focuses on state standards. Wisconsin leaves most standards to the local level, but the results are clear. Wisconsin’s students, like most American students, are utterly ignorant about basic civics. I’d encourage local folks to look into the requirements and curriculum at your local school district.
In a new report, the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute graded states on their standards for teaching civics and United States history — and gave Wisconsin Fs in both.
According to the report, Wisconsin’s biggest flaws are that it does not specifically require U.S. history or civics courses in high school, instead saying students need three credits of social studies that include state and local government; and that it focuses on broad themes that need to be covered rather than mandating specific content — for example, that students must learn about the Civil War, or study the First Amendment.
“There’s a tendency to shy away from spelling out exactly what kids need to know, and what they should be covering. It’s just easier to stick to generalities,” said David Griffith, a senior research and policy analyst at the Fordham Institute and a former civics teacher.
The report focuses on state-level standards, but individual districts often have more specific graduation requirements.
Flynn, like other teachers in Wisconsin, talked to his students about the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in different ways depending on how it tied into the material they were learning.
In its analysis of Wisconsin civics standards, the Fordham Institute says most standards are too broad and vague to be useful, that breadth and vagueness means most “essential” content is never mentioned, and there’s no attempt to assign content to specific grade levels or classes. Wisconsin history standards, according to the institute, also don’t assign specific content to specific grade levels, don’t have a discernable scope or sequence, and don’t make the priorities clear for what teachers should focus on.
Griffith said the analysis of state-level standards grew out of mounting concern that Americans are in a bad place, politically and civically, and that one way to address the problem is to make sure students develop the necessary skills and knowledge to better engage with political issues, so that five or 10 years down the road, those former students have the tools to discuss history and current events in context.
“It’s so obvious that we’re in a bad place,” Griffith said “It’s so obvious that the level of polarization and disunion that we’re seeing is not healthy, that really there’s a growing movement to do something about it.”