Commentary on taxpayer supported Madison K-12 Curriculum

Scott Girard:

West High School senior Miles Mullens, who is enrolled in the school’s Wisconsin First Nations class this semester, said the class has felt like the first time his history classes have been “honest about” what colonizers did to Native Americans.

“I thought I was a quote-unquote woke person, someone who had already learned things and looked at things from a (variety of) points of view and someone who could go into a situation and take other people’s perspective seriously,” Miles, who is white, said. “I went into the class and I was just completely wrong.”

Ask many of the students in these classes, from fourth grade up through high school, what they’re learning and you’ll hear a consistent phrase: “the truth.”

That was repeated multiple times by students learning about history — specifically, the history of non-white people and how white people had harmed them in various ways, from colonization to slavery to Jim Crow.

“Most stories don’t tell the truth,” said Sandburg fourth-grader Oliver. “We’re actually telling the truth about the real things that happened in history.”

Teaching beyond the textbooks already on their shelves means doing work outside of the classroom to identify the best resources.

Moe said finding resources teachers can “trust” is among the bigger challenges for those looking to diversify a curriculum.

“Textbooks have a lot wrong with them. There’s faulty facts in there, there’s one-sided perspectives in there, but someone has done some type of research and put that together,” he said. “To go out and find documents and resources you can use that you can also trust is hard.”

To prepare for the changing environment, education schools are focusing on social justice and equity lenses for their teachers. Tim Slekar, dean of Edgewood’s school of education, called it the “heart and soul of teacher and education curriculum” at his school.

“If we’re creating a place that’s culturally sensitive to more children, then those children are more likely to be willing to participate and learn and be engaged,” Slekar said.

Warnecke, who has been at various Madison schools for 12 years in a variety of positions, said it took her experience teaching in Chicago schools to open her eyes to the importance of teaching diverse perspectives and reaching students facing major challenges outside of school. The practice has “so many layers” to it, she said, and doing it successfully everywhere will take time — but she’s sure it can be done.

How might these initiatives address students moving through (and graduating from) the Madison schools who cannot read?