Column: Children should not be used as political pawns

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It is a special time of year for children, families and educators. I know, as an educator and as a parent, that the transition to school can be a difficult time, and this year, of course, the challenges are much greater than ever, and our educators and students. fall under.

And while they do that, as they tackle the common challenges of a new school year and the extraordinary ones that come with going back to school during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, our state’s legislative leadership takes on a different challenge. – the challenge of undermining public education for their own political gain.

I have said it before and I will say it again: these lawmakers are using our children as toys in a political game, and they will not win, but they will hurt our students, our educators and our democratic principles in the process. Because by attempting to undermine public education by passing controversial, ill-advised and unexamined bills through the legislative process without offering many opportunities to the public, they ultimately undermine democracy and deprive residents of Wisconsin for their right to civic participation.

This is really ironic, because one of the extremely fast-tracked bills currently underway in the Legislature is a Civic Education Bill, and it includes a stipulation regarding the curriculum that teaches “a understanding of the process for effective advocacy before government agencies and officials. . ”

How interesting that Assembly Bill 563, drafted by President Vos, was only introduced one day before his hearing. I would say it is quite difficult to effectively litigate before a government agency on barely 24 hours’ notice, so the bill is already hypocritical in its provisions.

But it does not stop there. The bill also attempts to regulate the civic education curriculum to require teaching “an understanding of the shared rights and responsibilities of students as residents of this state.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except that President Vos and the exclusively Republican co-sponsorship of this bill seem to have forgotten their own rights and responsibilities as residents, let alone representatives of this state. They are responsible, as gatekeepers to their constituents, to engage with Wisconsin experts and stakeholders when developing legislation.

In this area of ​​civic education, I am both an expert and a stakeholder, and more importantly, the duly elected Superintendent of the State of Wisconsin. It is an independent elected office at the state level. I head the Ministry of Public Instruction, charged with advancing public education to ensure the success of the children of our state, and somehow the sponsors of this bill forgot about us. consult or other experts or stakeholders. I wonder why.

I actually know why. They don’t want to hear what I have to say. The thing is, they shouldn’t have a choice. They don’t have to agree with me, but when it comes to public education in Wisconsin, I won’t stand idly by as legislative leaders attempt a blatant takeover at the expense of the children of Wisconsin. We must – and we will – stand up for our cause.

Another of these hastily and misguided bills is House Bill 562, which would require parental notification before any instruction regarding sexuality or gender identity, effectively obstructing the potential for open discussion. and open in our classrooms and the LGBTQ + curriculum included in our schools. . This bill has profound and damaging implications, but again, with one day’s notice, we cannot examine them in depth. I wonder why.

I guess speed equals smoke and mirrors; the sponsors of this bill want to hide exactly how devastating and damaging this bill is. Let us be clear: that would be extremely damaging. This bill, if passed, would harm children, LGBTQ + and not. Without being able to address sexuality and gender identity in the classroom, how can LGBTQ + students identify support staff in their schools?

GLSEN research shows that supporting adults in a school has a significant positive effect on the sense of belonging and safety of LGBTQ + students, not to mention their attendance rate and academic success. And all students benefit from supportive adults and an inclusive LGBTQ + curriculum, as the modeling support and alliance reduces discrimination, and an inclusive curriculum helps teach the rich tapestry of residents of Wisconsin, of which the LGBTQ + community is an integral part.

So here is my message to the students of Wisconsin: you have an ally in your state superintendent. I’ve got your back.

That is why I am making my appeal directly to the people of Wisconsin, who elected me to lead public education in that state. You can agree or disagree with me, but either way, I need you to be careful. I need you to read these invoices. I need you to talk to your schools and friends, and especially your children, about what this would mean for the schools and classrooms in your district. And I need you to call your state representative and your senator and ask them to slow down.

I have problems with these bills, and I also have a problem with the way they are pushed all the way through the process. Each of these bills is expected to require months of study with experts and engagement with stakeholders. Educators should be interviewed and school administrators consulted. Ask students what they think about it. None of this happens, and it can only happen if we hit the pause button in the process and give the people of Wisconsin enough time to make our voices heard.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so bad that they get their attention, they can be counted on to make it right. Now that the public in Wisconsin is better informed, we’ve noticed that things have gone wrong, and it’s time to get our government back on its feet and get our legislative leaders to tackle the real challenges, not the ones created for sport. Politics.

I learned that in civic education.

Dr. Jill Underly was elected Superintendent of Public Education for the State of Wisconsin in April 2021.


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