Civically Disengaged Citizens Endanger Liberty

February 15, 2023

In James Fenimore Cooper’s, The American Democrat, he writes, “The most insidious attacks are made on [liberty] by those who are the largest trustees of authority in efforts to increase their power.” 

Like many Americans that grew up in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s we watched the iconic Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock! history, grammar, science, and civic lessons. We learned United States (U.S.) history and the workings of the U.S. government from songs like, “I’m Just a Bill”, “The Preamble,” and “Mother Necessity.” We became knowledgeable in how the past affects the present from our parents, school, age-targeted books, and educational television. Our training included content that equipped us with the tools necessary for meaningful civic engagement as adults outside of the school setting. 

Can you answer sample questions from the Wisconsin Civics Games? (*Answers at the end) 

  1. The original Wisconsin constitution is one of the oldest state constitutions in the nation. Describe two ways that the Wisconsin constitution can be changed; and which of the two has never been attempted?* 
  2. The tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution delegates to the states powers not delegated to the federal government. These are known as reserved powers. Name two of the reserved powers.* 

What went wrong? 

In 1996, The Walt Disney Company acquired Schoolhouse Rock! By 2000, they ceased airing the series as a whole. 

A 2014 to 2018 Nations Report Card announced “no significant change,” when comparing the civic assessment proficiency rates of eighth-grade students. Twenty-four percent of eighth-grade

students rank ‘Proficient’ and 73% rank less than ‘proficient’ in civics education. Our children are failing civics. [Note: Breakdown by state is not available.] 

According to the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, “In 2017, three in five Wisconsin municipalities reported an average of 1 or fewer candidates for each village board or city council seat.” The Heritage Foundation theorizes our school districts “…have de-emphasized traditional civics education and are focusing instead on ‘anti-bias and diversity’ training.” 

The Thomas Fordham Institute (TFI) published, The State of State Standards for Civics and U.S. History in 2021. The report states, Wisconsin is one of nine states receiving an overall ranking of ‘Inadequate’ with grades of ‘F’ in History and Civics specific to Content, Rigor, Clarity, and Organization (TFI). “In general, they fail to furnish teachers and students with a solid roadmap for high-quality civics and history instruction. A complete revision of the standards is recommended. For example, Maine and Wisconsin list eras that students should cover at some point in grades K–12 (e.g., “Meeting of Peoples and Cultures”) but provide no further information beyond the associated date ranges (TFI). 

Wisconsin requires coursework in “social studies” that theoretically includes civics and/or U.S. History content. However, because Wisconsin does not specify the number of units of civics or social studies (and because they organize their high school standards by “strand” rather than by 

course) no civics or U.S. History content is associated with any specific high school social studies course (TFI). 

Starting with the 2017 high school graduating class, Wisconsin finally required students to pass a civics test by correctly answering 65 of 100 questions. Wisconsin students take the same exam required for U.S. citizenship (Wis.Stat. sec. 118.33(1m)(a)1. Section 32666R). How are Rock County students performing according to Wisconsin law? We do not know. 

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is disingenuous to Rock County youth. The DPI website contains the Civics Graduation Exam and the Answer Key. Answers without content or context are readily available and memorized only for the purpose of passing the test. 

Rigor is completely missing. The abject failure to teach or measure comprehension, application, or analysis of said subjects as they relate to the past and present world is very concerning. 

DPI does not include Civics Graduation requirements in their data collection. DPI is of the opinion that the local school district is responsible to track student’s progress towards graduation, which includes the mandated high school civics test. 

Perhaps by design, knowledge of civics and participation in civic affairs has tanked at the federal and state levels. The federal government is not reporting on U.S. State civics outcomes and Wisconsin DPI is not tracking student civic and history achievement in local school districts. 

Our ability to defend our rights against government infringement has become severely crippled. Younger generations are less knowledgeable of our rights, and struggle to describe even on a basic level how our government functions. Without even realizing the damage they will cause, ignorant, ill-informed voters, protestors, and activists may eventually become our lawmakers.

They will have great influence and authority over undermining our liberties. How can future leaders prevent tyranny when they cannot recognize or define it? 

Take action and re-engage your children in civics education. At a minimum our children should be able to immediately recognize threats to our constitutional republic. Rock County citizens should consider querying the Wisconsin DPI and their local school districts on civic education curriculum and test results. Take charge. Access resources on the Wisconsin State Senate Civic Education Site for programs like Senate Scholar, Page for a Day, and KIDS at the Capitol. The site lists ten other youth-based civics opportunities. Check out the Wisconsin Civics Games; is your school participating? Purchase School House Rock! on DVD or watch on YouTube. 

Wisconsin Civics Games answers: 

  1. The Wisconsin constitution can be changed by a constitutional amendment or by convening a constitutional convention. A constitutional convention has never been convened in Wisconsin. 
  2. Reserved powers given to the states include the ability to: 
  • Establish local governments and public schools 
  • Issue licenses 
  • Regulate business within the state 
  • Conduct elections – local, state, and federal 
  • Provide for public health and safety 

About Rock County First, Inc. 

Rock County First (RCF) is a non-profit organization (501c4) in Rock County, WI whose vision is to protect liberty and freedom in its local communities by empowering the citizens of Rock County through education and greater government accountability. RCF is located in Rock County, Wisconsin. The phone number is 608-313-5025. The Web address is

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