Where are the Teachers in WI Government?

We know that teachers in Wisconsin can be quite political when needed (remember how many marched, rallied, and spoke to protest Act 10?)  We also know that educating our children is one of the most important services our government provides.  So why is it then, that very few teachers are in the Wisconsin state legislature?

It seems to me that if the state government really wanted to improve public education, the best people to give input are public school teachers.  To be sure, many current legislators support public education (my own representative, Rep. Sondy Pope, is one of them), and WEAC does great work advocating for teachers, but the legislature is missing the crucial voices of teachers themselves.  Of the current ninety-nine representatives in the WI State Assembly, only one has ever taught in public schools, and in the Senate that number is zero (based on the information in their biographies).

So, where are the teachers in WI state government?  We are the ones who see the effects of cuts to education funding every day, and we are some of the most dedicated public servants- working long hours, caring for their students as if they were our own, and even spending our own money on classroom materials.  Who better to speak up for public education in Wisconsin than teachers?  Is it that teachers don’t run for office?  Or perhaps they have but were defeated?  If we really want to fix public education, we need to stop talking about it waiting in line for the copier or in the lunchroom; instead, we need teachers to run for office and win.

Thanks for reading.

Lesson Plan: European Cooperation and Integration

Four years ago I created a lesson plan on the origins of European economic cooperation and integration for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for European Studies.  Since today is Europe Day, I thought I would update it and share it here.  Feel free to use it as is or adapt it for your own needs.

Title of Lesson Plan: The Origins of European Economic Cooperation and Integration

Grades: 9-12

Brief Description: In this lesson, students will learn about the arguments made in favor of European economic cooperation and integration after the Second World War.

Time: 2-3 days

Objectives: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • evaluate the arguments made for economic cooperation and integration
  • synthesize the information to create their own argument about economic cooperation and integration

Materials Needed:


  1. Day One: Students will read and the historical background piece, “The Origins of the Schuman Plan.”  The instructor will answer any clarifying questions and add any relevant information pertinent to the curriculum (i.e. information on Europe between 1914 and 1945).  For Day Two, assign students the “Marshall Plan speech” and the “Letter from Jean Monnet to Robert Schuman.”
  2. Day Two: Hand out the discussion guide and discuss the first two sources.  The instructor will want to address some of the more important points of the sources.  For Day Three, assign students the “Schuman Declaration” and “The Ruhr has replaced the United States as France’s main coal supplier.”
  3. Day Three: Discuss the last two sources.  The instructor will want to address some of the more important points of the sources.  Assign the Big Picture Questions and collect the discussion guide when complete.

Assessment: The assessment for this lesson is the “Discussion Guide.”

Extension: Students may want to examine some of the current issues surrounding the EU (Eurozone, refugee crisis, Brexit, etc.) and discuss whether or not economic cooperation and integration is still worth it.

Educational Content Standards (WI Model Academic Standards):

  • History, B.12.2 Analyze primary and secondary sources related to a historical question to evaluate their relevance, make comparisons, integrate new information with prior knowledge, and come to a reasoned conclusion
  • History, B.12.8 Recall, select, and explain the significance of important people, their work, and their ideas in the areas of political and intellectual leadership, inventions, discoveries, and the arts, within each major era of Wisconsin, United States, and world history

Thanks for reading.

Educating Youth to be Active Citizens

When I saw the list of topics for the German Marshall Fund’s Triennial Transatlantic Leaders Retreat, I was intrigued. Halfway down the list was a topic on which I have previously written- “Youth quake: Engaging youth worldwide in learning and service.” I immediately  began thinking about what I’ve written and what I might add to those ideas to create something as if I were there as a guest speaker on that panel.  My overall premise is that if we want to engage youth, they need to have a framework around which they can build, and they absolutely must have opportunities for political participation.

A Framework
For the past four years I have used the Millennium Development Goals, and now the Sustainable Development Goals, in my classes.  Seeing as how the SDGs constitute a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity,” they are ideal for giving youth opportunities to be active citizens.  As a framework in class, not only do they help us learn about the work of the UN and NGOs, we also come back to them when we discuss current issues.  Giving the students a framework they can reference throughout the year makes increases their retention of the material and provides them with a base for their political participation.

Opportunities for Political Participation
While there are a number a ways citizens can participate in the political process, I want to focus on three- writing letters, presenting policy proposals, and volunteering.

When it comes to the MDGs and SDGs, I’ve given the students numerous opportunities to research a variety of those goals and then to write letters to UN officials with their opinions about addressing those problems (see my previous post about this activity here).  When we get a response from those officials, it lets the students know that their voice matters.  This year for example, we heard from Laurent Thomas of the FAO in response to the students’ letters about food security.

A second idea is to give students the opportunity to present policy ideas to their elected officials.  The U.S. can learn much from our friends across the Atlantic in these regards, especially with their children’s parliaments and the European Youth Event (see my previous post about this idea here).  If our youth feel they have a say in the process, then perhaps it will lead to increased political participation.

Finally, besides voicing their opinions on how to best cure the ills of society, students should actually have opportunities to work improving society.  This year, my students and I started VeronaAid, a student-driven charity whose “mission is to deliver aid to the impoverished citizens of Dane County and to make a difference in the lives of those affected by the Syrian refugee crisis.” We meet once a week to work on spreading our message and coming up with ideas for fundraising.  Because the students have a voice in this venture, they have an interest in seeing it succeed.  If you would like to see examples of their activities, please check out the website and our social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).  If we tie this back to my idea of a framework, SDG 1 is “End poverty in all its forms everywhere;” the students of VeronaAid are working towards this goal with every diaper bag or backpack they fill and every presentation they give.

What do other teachers do to encourage their students to engage in political participation?  How can we coordinate our actions at my high school with those of other schools in the area and even around the world?  Are politicians ready to listen to students’ policy ideas and give them serious consideration?

Thanks for reading.

Ways for Embassies to Engage America’s Youth

I recently saw a job posted by an embassy in Washington, DC, looking for someone to help with youth engagement across the United States.  Since this is an area I am passionate about, I immediately began brainstorming.  The three ideas that I think have the most potential utilize social media, Model UN, and teacher materials.

Most embassies already use social media as a tool for digital diplomacy.  Personnel could use that to engage with both students and teachers across the United States.  For example, I was able to have somebody from the Italian Embassy speak to my students via Skype (not exactly social media, but still a form of engagement via the internet).  Additionally, embassies, or their consulates, could hold Twitter chats.  If they have exchange programs, they could encourage students to post photos to Instagram or Flickr.

Model UN is an opportunity for students to be engaged in international politics, diplomacy, and global issues in an academic setting.  There are a number of conferences held across the country each year from coast to coast, including at least two in Washington, DC.  These would be great opportunities for embassies to hold sessions on their role in the world and international organizations.  As our school’s Model UN advisor, I try to set up trips to the consulates in Chicago when we attend the conferences there.  In the past, we’ve visited the consulates for Greece, Canada, and Mexico.  All of the trips were 1-2 hours long and provided students an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the respective countries.

Finally, one of the most effective ways to reach students is through their teachers.  Reaching one high school teacher, for example, means reaching approximately one hundred students.  If embassies had lesson plans on their country, relations with the US, or more, it would exponentially increase its reach among American youth.  For example, the UK embassy could create lesson plans for AP Comparative Government and Politics (as it is one of the six countries teachers are mandated to teach), AP US History, AP European History, AP English Lit, and so on.  When I taught my students about the UK under Thatcher, I used videos from The Specials and Madness.

These are just three ideas that embassies in Washington, DC, could use to engage American students.  If you’ve got any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.

College For All

On May 19, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the “College For All Act,” calling for the elimination of “tuition and related fees” at public universities in the United States.  In his speech he gave a number of reasons for his plan, including the fact that 40 million Americans have $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and many European countries have eliminated their tuition and fees. In essence, he argued that a university education should be a right.

This last concept was introduced back in 1966 in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Article 13(2)(c) states, “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”  Since then, all but a handful of states have ratified the Covenant– Comoros, Cuba, Palau, Sao Tome and Principe, and the U.S.  In other words, the U.S. is not keeping up with international standards.  We are an exception in the global community.

Since I previously wrote a post comparing the U.S. and Scandinavia, I will not go in to what he said about other countries.  Suffice it to say, he is correct that those countries have eliminated tuition and fees.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of it all- the cost of eliminating tuition and fees at public universities.  In his plan, the federal government pays for 67% of the total tuition and fees, while the states pick up the remaining 33%.  In order for the federal government to pay for their part, Sanders introduced a tax on Wall Street.  This means that taxpayers have to foot the bill for the state portion.  Being the curious person that I am, I wanted to figure out what that would be here in Wisconsin.

Most of the data I used came from the UW System Fact Book, 2013-2014.  I started by calculating the total number of undergraduates (Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors only) at each of the UW universities and colleges.  The Fact Book was kind enough to have already split those numbers up into resident and non-residents, although it did not break down non-residents into reciprocity students and non-reciprocity students.  This is important because the cost of tuition for the former is cheaper than for the latter group.  The Fact Book also has the tuition/fees for each institution, again making my life a bit easier.  Since it did not break down students by full time or part time and reciprocity or non-reciprocity, I made everybody full time and the reciprocity students into non-reciprocity students.  This means that my calculations will actually be at the maximum level.  As such, the total amount of undergraduate tuition/fees paid in 2013-2014 for all 26 UW universities and colleges would be $1,513,092,675.  Again, that is higher than actual because of my methodology (making everybody full time and charging all non-residents the out-of-state tuition/fees.)  Under Sen. Sanders’ plan, the federal government’s bill would be $1,013,772,092, leaving $499,320,583 for Wisconsin residents.

To figure out the amount for Wisconsin residents, I used the population numbers from 2013.  Since I could not find numbers for the amount of taxpayers that year, I divided the $499.3 million evenly among those employed in July 2013 (2,887,850).  The resulting amount would be $172.90 per employed person.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that rate stays the same for 45 years (putting your employment age from 15-60) and that the employment numbers stay the same.  If you paid $172.90 each year for 45 years, you would pay a total of $7,780.50; the weighted average of tuition/fees in 2013-14 was $7,232.  Over four years that average amounts to $28,928, but you only paid $7,780.50; in other words you pay for one year over your working lifetime and get three years of university education for free.  On top of that, the average debt of borrowers for the UW system as a whole in 2013-2014 was $29,219.  Eliminating tuition and fees just about wipes out that debt, giving students a chance to get on their feet after leaving the university.

While this is not exact, it does give us a ballpark figure.  It clearly shows that eliminating tuition/fees at public universities is actually a better deal than our current system.  As such, I hope that the public will give Sen. Sanders’ plan serious consideration.

Thanks for reading.