Dean Hess statement about the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol and democracy

The following statement was released by UW–Madison School of Education Dean Diana Hess on Jan. 13, 2021:

More than the White House, I have always thought of the U.S. Capitol as one of our democracy’s special places that should be revered.

I have spent hundreds of days in the U.S. Capitol. As an undergraduate, I interned for a member of Congress and always relished the opportunity to sit in the galleries of the House and Senate chambers listening to debates.

Those experiences shaped my decision to become a high school social studies teacher in Downers Grove, Illinois, and influenced my work as president of a teacher’s union, as a leader of a civic education organization, and as a professor and now dean of UW–Madison’s School of Education.

Like many, I experienced shock, horror, and anger on January 6 when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol — our people’s house — to seek to overturn by force the results of a free and fair election in which more people had voted than in any other presidential election in our history. This group defiled the Capitol with violence, Confederate flags, gallows, and human excrement.

As University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann reminds us, democracies cannot survive unless each generation sustains for the next one the opportunity to elect its leaders. As educators, we are responsible for preparing the next generation that will work to advance and strengthen democracy. So we must denounce the January 6 attack on democracy in the strongest possible terms because seeking to overturn the result of a free and fair election strikes at the very essence of what makes a democracy a democracy. There is no “neutral” stance to take in response to the events of January 6. Standing up for the system of democratic governance is not partisan, it is an effort to protect democracy.

Our School of Education has long recognized that all educators have the duty to prepare students for democratic competence. For decades, we have sponsored “Teaching about the Elections” conferences for teachers across Wisconsin. Election after election, School of Education students, staff, and faculty have been actively involved in student voter education. This past fall, we were a key part of the Badger Vote coalition that worked tirelessly and effectively to ensure that the principle of “free and fair elections” was not just a slogan, but a reality. In so many of our courses, students learn about the history and current realities — good, bad, and ugly — of political and civic participation in democracies and gain critical thinking skills that can inoculate them against misinformation.

The Discussion Project, housed in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in our School of Education, aims to strengthen our campus-wide capacity to create welcoming, engaging, and academically rigorous classroom environments where students can then learn how to have civil and intellectually productive discussions across difference and disagreement.

Our students learn about both the ideals and principles that undergird our democracy, and the realities of the inequitable social, economic, and political relations that shape it in practice. We have a long tradition of high-quality research and community engagement that focuses explicitly on how to create a more effective and just multicultural democracy.

We recognize and recommit ourselves to our School’s historic embrace of our role as democracy builders. We must stand united now in repudiating and condemning the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. We must commit ourselves to showing — in word and deeds — that an attack on our democracy is an attack on all of us.

— Diana E. Hess, PhD
Dean, UW–Madison School of Education
Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education