Teaching about the elections: UW–Madison conference to provide support, resources to educators ahead of 2022 midterm elections

Experts in politics, civic education, and media literacy will gather at UW–Madison later this month to provide a day of training and support for educators preparing to teach about the 2022 midterm elections. 

The Teaching About the 2022 Elections conference acknowledges that educators face a unique challenge in teaching about elections this year. As the midterms draw nearer and students return to classrooms this fall, teachers and administrators must contend with the compounding factors of increased polarization and increased political attention on curriculum and day-to-day classroom activities. 

“There’s a growing level of anxiety among teachers about how and what they can teach,” said Diana Hess, dean of the UW–Madison School of Education. “But this is a great opportunity — because the need is so great — to be able to show that quality civic education can be done well even during challenging times.”

Dean Diana Hess standing and smiling for her portrait in front of a bookcase
Dean Diana Hess is an expert in fostering productive, nuanced classroom discussions about difficult subjects.

Hess, who has decades of experience researching how to have respectful, nuanced, and engaging classroom discussions about difficult subjects, will deliver the keynote address at the conference.

Other sessions will focus on subjects including analyzing news on social media and what role midterm elections play in shaping the political landscape.

Suzanne Eckes, the Susan S. Engeleiter Professor of Education Law, Policy, and Practice at UW–Madison, will lead a session about educator speech inside and outside the classroom, and what teachers need to know about the First Amendment and academic freedom.  

“In this current political climate, educators may have questions about how much leeway they have during these discussions and whether they could be disciplined for their classroom speech,” Eckes said. “I want educators to be aware of how courts have responded to past legal challenges involving classroom discussions and instruction.”

Jeremy Stoddard, professor and director of the secondary teacher education program at UW–Madison, will present about his ambitious project, PurpleState — an interactive simulation he and a team of education researchers have created that allows students to step into the role of a political strategist. The simulation aims to pull back the curtain on political campaigns, increase understanding of the role of media in politics, develop students’ skills in argumentation and data literacy, and reduce polarization.

Jeremy Stoddard
Jeremy Stoddard worked with a team of researchers to develop PurpleState, an interactive tool for educators.

“We have teachers seeking us out to do it,” Stoddard said of PurpleState, noting student responses so far have been very encouraging. “Students were talking about using some of the evidence they had — about social factors, political identity, and economic factors — to understand why people believed what they did, and not just think they’re crazy or mean or evil. One of the goals of this project really is combatting some of the polarization that we see, and also developing that type of empathy.”

Sessions will also provide resources and support for educators working with younger learners. Madeline Tyner and Merri Lindgren, librarians at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, will present about recommended books for students in kindergarten through 5th grade with themes of civics and democracy.

The conference agenda and slate of speakers is available here. Registration is still open.

Media interested in connecting with conference speakers ahead of the event can contact Laurel White at laurel.white@wisc.edu. Wisconsin teachers are also available to speak with media about their recent experiences and plans for teaching about politics this fall. Their contact information will be made available upon request.

The Teaching About the Elections conference is supported by the office of Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE) in the School of Education and is funded by the Gibb Democracy Education Fund and the Claudia Grams Pogreba Fund. Mary Hopkins Gibb is a 1955 School of Education alumna. Her husband, Bill, was a 1953 Wisconsin School of Business alumnus. Claudia Grams Pogreba is a 1970 School of Education alumna.

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