Wisconsin State Journal. September 26, 2021.
Editorial: All in favor of teaching civics in Wisconsin high schools, say aye — ‘Aye!’
Lots of troubling evidence shows the need for better civics education in Wisconsin.
Unruly crowds have shouted down school board members in Kenosha, Burlington and Madison, and sometimes hounded public officials outside their homes. What happened to civility?
The state Senate has failed to act on more than 100 of the governor’s appointees, some for nearly three years. How about some advice and consent from our senators, as the Constitution prescribes?
Judicial elections have become increasingly partisan, with many voters demanding loyalty to one political party or the other. But the judicial branch is supposed to be independent and nonpartisan.
The lack of knowledge about our American system of government — its separation of powers, our individual freedoms, the rule of law — demands attention. Barely half of adults in a nationwide poll last month could name the three branches of government. And barely a third knew how long the terms of office are for members of Congress, according to the survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
That’s why the Legislature should approve a civics requirement for all Wisconsin high school students. Wisconsin is one of just nine states without a civics requirement, according to the Fordham Institute. The institute recently gave Wisconsin an “F” for the content, rigor, organization and clarity of its civics education efforts. Even the Madison School District, in the seat of state government, fails to require a high school civics class.
That needs to change.
Republicans led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have embraced the cause. They recently introduced Assembly Bill 563, which would require a semester of civics to graduate from a Wisconsin high school.
We’re not fans of the state piling mandates on local schools. But insisting that civics is taught in a meaningful way to younger generations it too important not to require. It helps build a better informed and more engaged citizenry. Civics encourages critical thinking, respectful debate and an appreciation for the freedoms and responsibilities we all share in our democracy.
Jill Underly, Wisconsin’s superintendent of schools and a former civics teacher, supports that goal.
“Of course I want to work with our Legislature to change our laws to require credits in civics for students to graduate from a Wisconsin high school,” she said Thursday.
Unfortunately, politics has infected the cause. Underly was upset she wasn’t consulted about Vos’ bill, which she registered against. She also faults the speaker for rushing the proposal.
She has a point. Vos introduced his bill Sept. 15 and held a public hearing the next day. That provided little chance for the public to have its say.
Vos has scheduled an Assembly vote for Tuesday — less than two weeks after introducing it. The Senate should be more deliberative as it considers the bill.
AB 563 would require Underly’s state Department of Public Instruction to draft a model curriculum to guide school districts. So she’ll have lots of say in shaping suggested lessons.
Rep. Don Vruwink, D-Milton, a retired teacher, wants to ensure local schools districts have flexibility in how they teach civics. That makes sense, given Wisconsin’s long and strong tradition of respecting local control of public education.
Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo, is worried his Republican colleagues will try to politicize DPI’s model curriculum if a legislative rules committee is allowed to nitpick the department’s guidance.
We sympathize with Considine’s concern, given Republican Sen. Steve Nass’ recent attempt to micromanage masking rules at University of Wisconsin System schools. At the same time, Underly needs to play it straight when she develops her recommendations.
Lawmakers shouldn’t let the broad goal of better civics education devolve into a narrow political fight. This is about the future of our nation, not scoring political points for the next election.
The State Journal editorial board has advocated for a state civics requirement going back two decades. The Wisconsin Newspaper Association, which sponsors the Wisconsin Civics Games for students, is supportive. So is the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
Every school district must teach the basics of our American system of government so that democracy and freedom continue to flourish.
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. September 28, 2021.
Editorial: Turn the page with a new book
Banned Books Week is being marked this week. The event, which started in 1982, touts itself as an “annual event celebrating the freedom to read.”
Regrettably, it’s every bit as relevant today as it was almost 40 years ago, perhaps more so in some ways.
Open access to information has been a cornerstone of our nation, enshrined in the First Amendment. The right to free speech, which is what an author’s work falls under, is not absolute. But government bodies must clear extraordinary hurdles to restrict it.
Let’s pause there for a moment. While people frequently point to the First Amendment when they’re told they can’t post, publish or say certain things in specific locations or formats, that’s not generally a true First Amendment question. The amendment prohibits government interference in speech. Generally speaking, private organizations can limit speech on platforms they control without running afoul of the First Amendment’s protections.
In short, it’s not uncommon for people screaming about the First Amendment to have no clue what it actually says.
The American Library Association (whose members are often taxpayer funded, thus governmental bodies) maintains a list of the 10 most challenged books each year. The 2021 list is a throwback in some respects. Fewer books on the list focus on sexuality. More are familiar titles to generations of students. “To Kill a Mockingbird” makes an appearance for the first time since 2017 at No. 7, just ahead of “Of Mice and Men.” The Harry Potter series, the list’s most-challenged work back in 2001, fell off the past year’s list.
Past lists have included subjects as inane as the “Captain Underpants” series and as weighty as the discussion of suicide in “Thirteen Reasons Why.” The Bible made the list in 2015, one spot ahead of Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical comic “Fun Home.”
What all those books have in common is that they made people uncomfortable. They raised questions. They challenged readers. While the relative quality of the writing can be disputed (few will defend the literary merits of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which ranked No. 2 in 2015) each book raised issues enough people found disturbing to formally challenge their inclusion in library collections.
Newspapers don’t generally favor censorship, for obvious reasons. It shouldn’t be a surprise we don’t, either. To us, libraries exist to offer people the opportunity to explore thoughts and ideas from a wide range of sources. And, as a rule, you’re not required to read something from them. If a book isn’t interesting or offends your sensibilities, move on. There’s most likely something else that’s a better fit.
Nor, incidentally, is it problematic for parents to limit what their children check out from a library. We’d agree that the themes in some works are beyond a child’s ability to process and evaluate appropriately. And it’s a parent’s decision when their child is allowed to pick up a title or author.
What becomes problematic is when people say, in effect, “Because I can’t/won’t read that, you shouldn’t be allowed to, either.” That’s attempting to impose your worldview on others, and is a fundamentally different argument than saying people shouldn’t read something because it’s poor quality or lacking in value.
The distinction is not hard to understand. A vegetarian can fairly point to their belief that a plant-based diet is healthier or avoids risks associated with one that includes meat. The same goes when they make a values-based argument for their dietary habits. They cross a line when that stance becomes “I don’t think meat is ethical, so you can’t have a cheeseburger.”
We encourage people to read, and read widely. That includes books, periodicals and, yes, newspapers. Read what you enjoy. Read what challenges you. Embrace the opportunities to learn and grow in ways that make sense to you and match your sensibilities.
Just remember that people aren’t clones. Not everyone shares the same interests. Not everyone agrees on what boundaries are reasonable. Attempting to prohibit others from reading their choices based on your views is misguided.
We don’t all have to agree. We do have to get along.
Racine Journal Times. September 27, 2021.
Editorial: Put edible food in mouths, not landfills
There’s work to be done when it comes to our landfills.
That’s apparent from a state Department of Natural Resources snapshot of what we’re putting into state disposal sites.
Organic waste — which includes food waste, yard waste and diapers — account for more than 30% of the stuff we send to landfills. That’s about 1.3 million tons.
What’s perhaps more worrisome if, like us, you want to reduce the need for creating expensive new landfills which wind up costing tax dollars, is that waste food, formerly edible food that was spoiled or discarded, combined with food scraps like banana peels, account for about 20% of that waste and, the study said, that’s double the percentage found in a previous Wisconsin landfill study in 2009.
We’re not doing too good on the recycling front, either. Despite a statewide recycling program, the 2020 study found increased amounts of recycling materials that were mistakenly put into the trash instead of recycling bins. Paper accounted for 21.3%, plastic 17%, glass, 2.2% and metal 4.6%.
“We know from surveys that some people don’t recycle because they believe separated recyclables end up in the landfill,” said Casey Lamensky, DNR solid waste coordinator, “We want to encourage everyone to take advantage of their local recycling program. The recycling industry in Wisconsin is very good at getting these materials to buyers, so generally once recyclables are placed in the recycling bin, they are not landfilled.”
By DNR estimates, Wisconsin residents tossed away 490,000 tons of recyclables in 2020. That’s compared to 754,000 tons of materials that are actually processed and recycled – hardly a good report card by any standard. DNR officials say those 490,000 in unrecycled recyclables could have netted more than $76 million had they made it to the blue bins.
The bright spots in the trash snapshot – yes, there had to be some bright spots in all that garbage – is that there has been progress in dealing with construction materials and electronics and TVs. A state law requiring recycling of electronics went into effect in 2010 and, since the last survey in 2009, the amount of landfilled TVs and monitors has dropped 85 percent.
Asphalt shingles are now being ground up and remixed with asphalt to be reused in road construction. That has dropped shingles out of the top 10 in waste types and asphalt shingle landfilling has decreased from 30 percent to 10 percent of the landfilled construction and demolition waste stream.
So, that’s some progress. But the vast amounts of food waste could be trimmed by better menu planning and food storage. And use those blue (or whatever color) bins.
You don’t want to be sending your tax dollars to the landfill.