UW–Madison to host gathering for experts on education and political polarization

By Laurel White

A group of education and political science scholars from across the country will gather at UW–Madison later this month to dig into how political polarization is impacting young people and civic education in K-12 schools.

The research convening, funded by the American Educational Research Association and Gibb Fund for Democracy Education, will aim to map out current research on the subject, draft informational policy papers about that research for policymakers and grant funders, and create guidance documents for teachers hoping to utilize curriculum and strategies that show promise for countering some of the effects of polarization. 


The researchers will also create plans for measuring the efficacy of strategies aimed at addressing the effects of increasing polarization and produce a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Democracy & Education based on work from the convening. 

Jeremy Stoddard and Diana Hess, professors in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, are two of the organizers of the convening. Stoddard says building a better understanding of how polarization is changing classrooms is more important now than ever.  

“As another contentious election cycle approaches, we know the ripple effects of polarization are felt by teachers and have changed classroom practices and student opportunities across the country,” Stoddard says. “We need to dig into the research we already have on these important subjects to figure out what else we need to know and what we can do about it.” 

The event will bring scholars from a variety of fields to dig into issues including affective polarization, the role of misinformation and disinformation in fueling polarization, and how polarization emerges within particular contexts or impacts different demographic groups. The experts will also examine how polarization has affected local school policies and curriculum and opportunities for students to engage in high-quality civic education and topics related to race, equity, and inclusion.

Two sessions will focus on existing educational strategies and interventions aimed at teaching about and combating polarization. In one of those sessions, Stoddard and project assistant Jais Brohinsky will speak about PurpleState, a classroom simulation he and his research team created that aims to increase students’ understanding of political communications.  

Nathan Kalmoe, executive administrative director for UW–Madison’s Center for Communication and Civic Renewal, will also participate in a panel discussion at the convening. 

Other participants at the convening will come from the University of Pennsylvania, William & Mary, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Riverside, University at Buffalo, Duke University, Stanford University, University of Miami, University of Georgia, Columbia University, Michigan State University, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, North Carolina State University, the University at Albany, Harvard University, the University of Cincinnati, and the Pew Research Center.

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