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,1 to school districts around the country using the 1619 Project as a means of teaching American history.2
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s previous work on this topic3 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.4
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.*
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