Public Schools WERE the Pride of Wisconsin: It's Time to Get Our Mojo Back

Public Schools WERE the Pride of Wisconsin: It's Time to Get Our Mojo Back

In the 2nd grade, my family had just moved to Stevens Point from Salem, Oregon and I had no friends. Ms. Wagner told Brian Haferman to show me around, and we’re still friends at the age of 46.

In the 3rd grade I had Mrs. Handrich, who still checks in on me from time to time on Facebook.

In the 4th grade I had Mrs. Kuehl, who organized a reading challenge where you earned a free Pizza Hut pizza for every 5 books you read. I read a book every night for months and ate a lot of free pizza.

In the 5th grade I had Mrs. Gibb, who encouraged me to write my first “novel.” It was a 15 page classic called “Mej,” which was “Jem,” a popular cartoon at the time, spelled backwards.

In the sixth grade I had Ms. Johnson, and I still remember the names of clouds and parts of the ear. Don’t believe me?

  1. Cirrus, nimbus, cumulonimbus, cumulus, stratus. (I promise I didn’t Google them, and they may be spelled wrong.)
  2. Eustachian Tube, semicircular canals, cochlea…

In the seventh grade, Joe Lass was my football coach. “Kirk, I’m gonna start you at quarterback because you’re smart.” I flubbed every pass I ever attempted, but I remember him saying I was smart.

In the 8th Grade, Barb Massoglia taught me the differences between “there/their/they’re,” “who/whom,” “its/it’s,” and all the grammar I still use today. When I’m proofreading ~35 years later, I can sometimes visualize her correcting me.

In the 9th grade, Janet Allen made me read the “Tale of Two Cities” and forced me to recite Rudyard Kipling’s “If” in front of the rest of the class. I can still recite that poem from memory and remember being captivated by the stories of pre-revolution London and Paris while sitting in wet shoes after climbing over snowbanks to get to rural Ben Franklin Junior High.

In the 10th grade, Joe Adams let me be 4th chair French horn in the top band that was usually reserved for seniors, and showcased the entire horn section with a piece called “La Fiesta Mexicana.” I couldn’t play the opening fanfare at the beginning of the year, but I’d be damned if I was the only member of my horn section who flubbed those high notes in concert, so I practiced them every night until they were perfect.

In the 11th grade, after contracting both contra malaysia patella AND Osgood-Shlatter’s disease by training too hard for cross country over the summer, Dena Mercer took pity and cast me as Sir Lancelot in the school musical “Camelot.” My acting was wooden (it still is), but my “C’est Moi” sounded pretty good.

As a senior, coach Donn Behnke led our team to win the state cross country championship by the largest margin of victory in Wisconsin’s history. Although I was edged out of the varsity squad by Casey Hopp in the sectional meet and didn’t get to run that final race, I still beamed with pride, knowing I was part of a winning team.

As a freshman at Harvard University, while going to class with students whose parents paid over $40K per year to send them to the most elite private schools in America—with names like Exeter, St. Paul, and Sidwell Friends—I did ok…

…with my FREE Wisconsin public education.

This was what public education looked like in Stevens Point, Wisconsin in the 80s and 90s.

It was excellent and the PRIDE AND JOY of Wisconsin. Our state didn’t have much, but we had great public schools.

We had great teachers in rural Stevens Point because we had a strong teachers union, respect for the teaching profession, and a state government that knew that public education was our state’s calling card and invested in it accordingly.

Scott Walker dismantled all of this in 2011 and took Wisconsin’s PRIDE AND JOY away.

Wisconsin’s Republican legislature, led by Robin Vos, continues to attack Wisconsin’s PRIDE AND JOY by expanding the diversion of public school tax dollars to private voucher schools, 95% of which are religious.

DAMN Robin Vos, and damn the cultish know-nothing sycophants in his party who have forgotten what if feels like to have pride in public goods.

While I live and breathe in Wisconsin, I’ll do everything in my power to get Wisconsin’s PRIDE AND JOY back, and that’s why I’m building a lawsuit to rid our state of its poisonous school voucher system.

With your help, we hit our goal of raising $15K last week to pay our lawyers to come up with the strategy of how to win a school voucher lawsuit. I’ll keep you up-to-date as things progress, but the idea is to get our ducks lined up in a row now and file a lawsuit sometime this fall after Janet Protasiewitz is seated on the Supreme Court in August.

There’s no greater feeling than having pride in something you build up together with a strong team, and so often, that civic pride springs from a great public school system.

We can achieve that again throughout Wisconsin. We just have to rid ourselves of the toxic, cynical hypocrisy that has infested our state legislature and continues to humiliate our state instead of lifting it up.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking with the Minocqua Brewing Company.

And on this glorious Father’s Day, thanks to educators Steve Wehrwein, Donn Behnke, and the late Don Larsen (shout out to the WASC crew), for being father figures to me during pivotal moments of my youth.

Kirk Bangstad
Owner, Minocqua Brewing Company
Founder, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC
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