by Julia Kessel
Introducing the Problem
Over the past few years, the amount of hate against minority groups in Wisconsin has been rising significantly. These incidents, that are anywhere from microaggressions to violent crimes, have been plaguing the country and do not seem to be slowing down. In Wisconsin, much of these crimes tend to revolve around targeting and acting upon the ideas of minority stereotypes. In 2019, Wisconsin had a total of 74 violent hate crimes (United States Department of Justice 2019) compared to less than half of that in 2016, when there were 34 (AP News 2017). The increase in hate crimes could be caused by a number of factors, but it also lines up with the increase in false information being spread by the media, certain government officials and other prominent figures in society. When told something by a seemingly trustworthy person, those who do not know better than to listen to them, do just that: listen and believe what they are told (Leetaru 2019). Hate crimes are often spurred by those with power who hold strong opinions and biases against minority groups and because people follow them, those groups are often successful in their targeting of minorities. Since schools hold the responsibility of educating their population and community, giving students the holistic and correct information they need to be inclusive and informed members of society falls onto them. The rise of racial and minority violence in Wisconsin is due to the increasing amount of misinformation and implicit biases that others have of these groups. By expanding the required Social Studies Standards in Wisconsin for K-12 schools, this issue can start to be combated.
Current Policy Context
When trying to fight misinformation about minorities, the state of Wisconsin teaches about minority groups in the public school system. This is done through writing and requiring a set of standards that are to be taught in every public school across the state. These standards have the goal of making students more involved citizens as well as teaching them the foundations of economics, behavioral science, political science, geography and history (Evers 2018). The Wisconsin Social Studies Standards are responsible for ensuring that the students in public schools are receiving a comprehensive social studies education that allows them to be successful, fully functioning and civically engaged members of society who are able to call out injustice when they see it is necessary.
The issue facing the Social Studies Standards in Wisconsin is that they are missing a large amount of historical information that is required in the curriculum. Revolutionary historical events, topics and eras such as slavery and its long lasting effects, the Jim Crow Era, white supremacy, the Holocaust, internment camps after WWII, atomic bombs in Japan, systematic racism, and American Indian history and assimilation are not mentioned as requirements within the state standards. Some of the listed topics are considered “topics for exploration” (Evers 2018), meaning they can be taught if the individual school district decides to include them, but they are not required. These standards impact all students who attend public schools in Wisconsin.
The Social Studies Standards in Wisconsin were updated in early 2018, but the change was not large and added some specifics to only a few areas of the standards. Before 2018, the last change in the standards was in 1998. This means that in the last 23 years, the Social Studies Standards have been altered once. There have been some recent attempts within the Wisconsin Legislature to change the standards with the Holocaust Education Bill (Golub 2020), the African American History Education Act and the American Indian Studies Act (Wisconsin State Legislature 2019). These attempts have yet to pass, although the Holocaust Education Bill is very close to passing. Individual schools and districts can make the active choice to include a wider variety of topics within their social studies curriculum, but they would need to get approval from the school boards and administrations in order to do so.
When considering making a change, the Wisconsin state government should consider the perspectives of minority groups, school districts, schools and teachers. Marginalized groups have a large stake in the problem of hate crimes in Wisconsin because they most directly harm their communities. These groups are commonly the targets of microaggressions, verbal and physical harassment as well as violence solely because of their identity, whether it be racial or religious. School districts, schools and teachers should also be considered in this problem. Since this problem is in large part due to the misinformation of individuals, one can be led to believe that this is due to these subjects, stereotypes and histories being left out of school curriculum. By that reasoning, the schools are not fulfilling their responsibility of educating students about the harmful effects of racism and minority hatred (Barbieri, Ferede 2020). This disparity in responsibilities may be due to a lack of funding, support or education from the districts or state. The school’s stake in the problem of a rising number of hate based crimes in Wisconsin is that they played a part in the misinformation or lack of information that allowed or even encouraged those crimes to occur.
Rationale for Government Intervention
The government needs to intervene in the problem of the rising amount of violence toward minorities for a few main reasons. There are numerous examples of government failure in the situation, including negative externalities and asymmetric information. The negative externalities are impacts from the policy (or in this case, lack of policy) that are not reflected in the monetary costs. Asymmetric information stems from one party involved having and withholding certain information from the other parties. In this problem, there are also equity issues which are the responsibility of the government to fix. These equity issues come from one group being harmed disproportionally over another in the scheme of the problem.
There are a large number of negative externalities that go along with the rise in hate against minorities in Wisconsin. The first one being hate crimes specifically. Whether it be due to race, religion or other factors, minority groups have been targeted more and more recently. According to a study done by Milwaukee’s Jewish Community Relations Council, anti-semitic incidents in Wisconsin have more than doubled over the past two years (Carson 2021). This increase significantly harms the Jewish population of Wisconsin but since those committing the acts of anti-semitism do not bear the costs of their actions, that makes their actions a negative externality.
Another negative externality related to the rise of hatred toward minorities in Wisconsin is the rise of hate groups in the state. These groups often become more prevalent when there are either low or unclear consequences for spreading their hateful views. The state is home to the headquarters of 9 hate groups (Ibrahim 2017), all of which target various minority groups. These hate groups have a history of encouraging violence towards minorities as well. In 2012, a Wisconsin man associated with one of the hate groups headquartered in the state, took his motivation from being a member of the group and went to a Sikh temple and opened fire, leaving 6 people dead and several more injured (Goldman, Jaffe, Esposito 2012). That type of crime is not uncommon from members of hate groups and only continues to become more common. Since the members of these groups are protected under the first amendment until they actually cause harm, they continue to harass and target minorities with very little consequence to them which shows the hate groups as an externality to the problem of rising violence against minorities in Wisconsin.
The third example of negative externalities relating to this problem is the misinformation about minorities in society. This misinformation often comes from stereotypes, political leaders, prominent figures and the media. As for stereotypes, in a study about Anti-Indian Violence in Wisconsin, the authors stated that racial violence is more than just the outcomes, that it “represents a network of norms, assumptions, behaviors, and policies” (Perry, Robyn 594). These ideas, no matter how hateful or false, are protected by the first amendment so there is not a legal way to stop people from saying and sharing them. This fits the criteria of a negative externality because there are no legal repercussions or costs to those who follow and believe these hateful ideas.
Asymmetric information is another reason that the government needs to intervene in this problem. Since the state, school districts, schools and teachers have so much control over what is and is not taught to their students, there is a disparity between what students should know and what they are actually taught. This also stems from the problems relating to teachers not having the knowledge, tools or support to teach these subjects. The numerous missing historical events and topics from the curriculum leads to implicit biases among students. This is due to the common idea with biases that if one hasn’t heard of something, it cannot be true (Brownstein 2019). In the case of minority groups, if stereotypes or misinformation about them are common and students aren’t receiving the correct information, then they are easily swayed to believe the false information from sources other than their schools and teachers. Another aspect of the issue of minority misinformation in Wisconsin is that schools and teachers do not have a strictly set curriculum and a lot of it is left up to them to decide what is taught. This leads to asymmetrical information not only between the school and students but also between students at different schools. For example, several teachers in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin were suspended for asking their students how they would punish a slave as a part of their Black History Month unit (Palmer 2021). This type of question is insensitive to Black students and since the teachers had control over the curriculum and lesson plans, they were able to include it. If the government intervened, that situation and the harm that it caused to the students, families and community, likely could have been avoided.
Equity issues are the third reason for why government intervention is necessary in the problem of the rising amount of hate directed at minorities in Wisconsin. The hate in Wisconsin is towards minorities so it leads to a disproportionate amount of problems for minority groups in the state. If the government were to intervene, they could help create and implement policy that would eliminate the hate towards minorities and create a fair state and system for different groups of people in Wisconsin.
By comparing three potential policy alternatives against the criteria for success in the policy process, it is simple to determine the most effective and efficient solution to the problem. There are numerous ways to strongly evaluate the potential success and outcome of a policy on both the problem itself and the groups impacted by said problem. These criteria are costs, benefits, equity and feasibility.
The costs of a potential policy alternative would encompass any potential monetary needs throughout the process of the policy working. The monetary costs include both physical resources and human labor needs for both the implementation of the policy and any ongoing and regular costs that go along with the policy. The goal for the cost portion of the criteria evaluation is to be as cost effective as possible.
Benefits would entail the positive outcomes of the policy change on the problem it is aiming to address. For the problem of the rising amount of hate in Wisconsin, there are two main benefits that the policy alternatives should aim to solve. The first being that the amount of violence against minority groups is reduced and the second one is the amount of false information and perpetuation of stereotypes that are spread about minorities are also reduced. Benefits in terms of evaluating the best alternative for determining which policy to select are important because they show the direct positive outcomes of the policy on the groups that it is intended to help.
Equity encompasses the idea of fairness in a policy when it is relating to different groups of people. In the situation of hate in Wisconsin, the equity would be between different minority and majority groups. The criteria for a successful and equitable policy in combating hatred in Wisconsin would mean that it is helpful, not harmful to minority groups and is also implemented equally across the state, regardless of the minority or wealth status of a person, family, region or city. For a policy to be truly successful, it must be equitable and fair for all of those who it is aimed to help.
Feasibility is the criteria that determines how possible and likely it is that a given policy is able to be created and then implemented. It takes into account both the political and monetary aspects of the policy alternatives and whether or not they are deemed as doable or realistic. In terms of political feasibility, it comes down to whether or not the policy would be able to pass through the Wisconsin State Legislature. For monetary feasibility, it is a question of if the policy alternative is realistic in terms of costs. This includes how much money it would require and thought into where that money is coming from. Feasibility is necessary to evaluate because it looks at the policy alternatives through a realistic lense.
The first potential policy alternative to help solve the problem of hatred and violence against minorities in Wisconsin would be to change and expand the required social studies learning standards for K-12 public schools. This would entail the committee who writes the learning standards to meet, research and rewrite the standards for social studies. These standards would be expanded to include topics and events such as slavery’s long lasting effects, Jim Crow Era, white supremacy, the Holocaust, internment camps after WWII, A bombs in Japan, systematic racism, history of American-Indians, etc. An implementation cost of this policy alternative would include training sessions for teachers. These sessions would allow teachers to learn how to best teach this type of subject matter in a truthful and mindful way. Another implementation cost would be outreach to families to explain the changes and the need for change. Kris McDaniel, a Professor at UW-Madison, stated that “everyone needs to be educated on the history of marginalized groups in America” (Quintana 2020). This type of information is what would be conveyed to parents who may question some of the material as to them, they may see it as controversial when in actuality, it is an important aspect of a comprehensive human rights education. Another cost of this alternative would be the resources such as lesson plans and physical or digital class materials. This alternative meets the criteria of benefits by creating a more informed state population which in turn leads to less false information being spread about minority groups because the population would know the correct information. It would also aim to decrease violence against minorities in Wisconsin by combating the stereotypes and misinformation regarding minorities. In terms of this policy’s equitability, it would be implemented in all public schools across Wisconsin and the same curriculum and resources would be given to those schools as well. This policy alternative meets all of the specified evaluation criteria for a successful and efficient policy to decrease the amount of hate and violence against minorities in Wisconsin.
Another potential policy alternative to attempt to combat the rise of hate against minorities in Wisconsin would be to run an informative campaign on the harms of racism, anti-semitism and other types of hatred towards minorities. This alternative would entail catchy slogans displayed on billboards, in commercials and in other places across the state. The State Senate Committee on Education would be responsible for drafting, passing and implementing this policy. The information presented would be aimed to address the mental impacts that these hateful actions have on minority groups. It would also focus on the idea that most people have implicit biases and this policy would aim to combat those biases by giving Wisconsinites the resources to fight them. The costs of the program would entail the implementation costs of billboard space, filming for commercials and the set up of a hotline for people to ask questions regarding the policy itself or how to help. Ongoing costs of this policy alternative would be paying employees to run the hotline, printing paper resources of informational pamphlets and regular airtime for commercials. The informational campaign would achieve both of the desired benefits. It would decrease the amount of misinformation and false information revolving around minority groups which in turn would lead to a reduced amount of hatred and violence towards minorities in Wisconsin. In terms of equity, this policy would have to be implemented across the state equally. If it is, then it would succeed in not being harmful to minorities and being fair to those across minority groups and wealth levels. This policy alternative does meet most of the criteria for a successful and efficient policy but is more expensive to implement and upkeep than the first alternative discussed.
The third potential alternative would be to have no policy change. In terms of cost, this would have no monetary costs because nothing would be different from the policies already in place. There would be no implementation costs and ongoing costs would just be policies that already exist in Wisconsin. For benefits, the lack of change would not create the desired benefits of reduced violence towards minorities or address any misinformation about minorities. But, it would allow teachers in the state to teach content that would be catered to their community and students. For example, in Burlington, Wisconsin, one teacher taught her students about the Black Lives Matter movement after they showed interest in the topic in the classroom (Kingkade 2020). The flexibility in content allowed her to teach that. This alternative would not be very equitable because it would continue the disproportionate amount of hate and violence towards minorities in Wisconsin. This policy alternative option (or lack of policy change) does not meet most of the set criteria for an effective and successful way to combat hate against minorities in Wisconsin.
After evaluating the above criteria, the policy alternative that would be the most successful and efficient would be to change and expand the Wisconsin state learning standards for social studies. This is due to the policy being very cost efficient and not very expensive. It also has numerous positive benefits on students in Wisconsin’s public school system and minority groups. The policy is equitable across minority groups and wealth levels and is both politically and monetarily feasible.
The feasibility of the recommendation to change and expand the Wisconsin state standards for social studies has two main parts, whether it is feasible politically and monetarily. In terms of political feasibility, this alternative would likely be partially feasible due to the political makeup of the Legislature. Since many of the additions have turned into an argument of whether they are a human rights or political issue as of late, those specific parts may have a harder time passing. The other topics that are strictly historical and have no controversy surrounding them would easily be passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature. For monetary feasibility, it should be realistic and doable. This is due to the small amount of costs required for this policy. The committee that writes learning standards already exists so this would just be their next task and would not require hiring and paying more people. For the ongoing costs, the class resources and lesson plans would be given to schools and school districts virtually. The costs for printing and reproducing those resources would be relatively low. These small costs would make changing and expanding the standards monetarily feasible. For both the political and monetary feasibility of altering the standards, this policy is very realistic and doable by both of those criteria.
In conclusion, the state of Wisconsin has a major problem with the rise of hate and violence towards members of minority groups. By evaluating who is impacted by this problem and then justifying the need for government involvement, it is evident that a change needs to be made. After comparing three potential policy alternatives against the four main criteria that would make a successful and efficient policy to combat this problem, it is clear that changing and expanding the Wisconsin state learning standards for social studies is the correct and most feasible way to solve this problem. To help make this change, Wisconsinites can contact the head of the Social Studies Team at the Department of Public Instruction in Wisconsin. This change is vital and necessary to eliminate hatred and violence aimed at minorities in the state of Wisconsin.
Golub, Rob. 2020. “With Strong Support, Holocaust Education Bill Waits.” The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. April 14, 2020.
Quintana, Amanda. 2020. “There’s No Requirement for Wisconsin Schools to Teach about Country’s History with Racism.” Fox 47 News. September 2, 2020.
Evers, Tony. 2018. “WISCONSIN STANDARDS FOR Social Studies.” Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, May, 2018.
Joint Legislative Council, 2019. “2019 ASSEMBLY BILL 109.” Wisconsin State Legislature, March 22, 2019.
Barbiere, Cecilia & Ferede, Martha, 2020. “A future we can all live with: How education can address and eradicate racism.” UNESCO, June 29, 2020.
Criminal Justice Information Services Division, 2019. “Wisconsin Hate Crime Incidents.” Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2019.
AP News, 2017. “FBI data shows hate crimes appeared to drop in Wisconsin.” Associated Press News, November 13, 2017.
Leetaru, Kalev, 2019. “Why Do We Believe What We Read On The Internet?” Forbes, April 18, 2019.
Carson, Sophie, 2021. “With anti-Semitism on the rise, Milwaukee’s Jewish leaders urge everyone to play role in rooting out hate.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 11, 2021.
Ibrahim, Mukhtar, 2017. “Across Wisconsin, recent rises in hate, bias incidents spark concern.” Wisconsin Watch, November 12, 2017.
Goldman, Russell & Jaffe, Matthew & Esposito, Richard, 2012. “Officials: Temple Gunman Page Associated with ‘Hate Group’.” ABC News, August 6, 2012.
Perry, Barbara & Robyn, Linda, 2005. “Putting Anti-Indian Violence in Context: The Case of the Great Lakes Chippewas of Wisconsin.” University of Nebraska Press, Summer 2005.
Brownstein, Michael, 2019. “Implicit Bias.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall, 2019.
Palmer, Ewan, 2021. “Teachers Suspended For Asking Children How They Would Punish Slaves in Class Assignment.” Newsweek, February 2, 2021.
Kingkade, Tyler, 2020. “How one teacher’s Black Lives Matter lesson divided a small Wisconsin town.” NBC News, October 24, 2020.