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Delaware maintains an accessible web page detailing the state standards for social studies, which were last updated in 2018. The civics strand of standards is structured around four “anchor standards” of civic education: Government, Politics, Citizenship, and Participation. The Delaware K-12 Civic standards are presented in a document that outlines the progression through each anchor standard by grade band. For each of the grade band standards, there is an indication of the grade level in which the leveled standard should be highlighted. For example, the grades 9-12 cluster standard often indicates grade 9 as the year the information should be highlighted and in fact, only the politics anchor standard is meant to be highlighted in both grades 9 and 11. It appears that at least one anchor standard is highlighted at every grade level except for grades 10 and 12. Grades 4, 5, and 9 are the levels at which civic education is most frequently highlighted across the three anchor standards. The Delaware civic standards document dedicates one page to each anchor standard that consists of an overall description of each anchor accompanied by the grade band succession of the standard’s complexity.
In elementary school, each anchor standard is touched upon at least once from kindergarten to fifth grade. The elementary grades are separated into two clusters: K-3 and 4-5. The participation anchor standard is highlighted in Kindergarten, as students are asked to “demonstrate the skills necessary for participating in a group.” These skills are defined as identifying an objective, dividing responsibilities, and working cooperatively. This standard seems to approach the practice of civic participation through the age-accessible entry point of working together as members of a shared group. However, there is a lack of sustained practice in civic participation at the elementary level, as the next time the participation anchor standard is highlighted is in grade 4 where the objective is for students to “employ the formal and informal methods by which democratic groups function.” Though the active verb of “employ” indicates an element of participation, it is unclear how this objective would be assessed in the classroom or in what context students would apply the unspecified democratic methods. The learning objective highlighted in fifth grade does not require students to locate civic learning within their own lives, only asking students to “understand” that citizens must be informed to select effective leaders. To better embody a participatory approach to civic learning, students could engage in project-based learning that simulates the steps of an informed election or in some way positions students as the active assessors and selectors of candidates.
At the middle school level, each civic anchor is embodied in at least one grade band standard. The only anchor standard to appear only once at the middle school level is the participation standard. That single standard consists of the mandate to “follow the actions of elected officials, and understand and employ the mechanisms for communicating with them while in office.” The inclusion of the objective to “employ” communication mechanisms in order to connect with elected officials represents a participatory approach to civic learning that positions students as informed civic participants in a relevant context. Direct engagement with elected officials at the middle school level could also provide a culturally relevant approach to civic education if students are required to activate their civic agency to communicate about a topic that they find meaningful. The learning objective to communicate with elected officials can engage students in higher level thinking through the creation of original work while also encouraging students to have a voice both in their own community and in the greater society. All the other middle school level standards require students to simply understand and analyze.
The two high school cluster standards for the participation anchor are both highlighted only in ninth grade. One of the ninth grade participation standards does identify the goal for students to “develop and employ” the skills needed to work with “government programs and agencies” without any further clarification as to how to achieve this learning objective. This learning objective seems to rest on the assumption that students will actually work with government programs and agencies in order to employ the skills necessary to work in that environment. No indication is given as to how students are meant to gain that experience and apply those skills. The second high school participation standard requires students to “understand the process of working within a political party, a commission engaged in examining public policy, or a citizen’s group.” This abstract learning objective to understand the process differs from an objective to actually participate in that process, even as a young citizen. The potential for students to gain lived experience working within a civic organization or group is diminished without a concrete requirement for participation. Furthermore, there is a lack of accessible direction for how to achieve those participatory goals at the local level paired with the exclusion of the participation anchor standard past ninth grade. The citizenship anchor standard is also only required in ninth grade and only asks students to “understand” the individual responsibility of citizens to stay informed, participate in the civic process, and uphold laws without expecting them to “demonstrate” those practices at any point. The politics anchor standard is the only anchor included at the upper high school level with two grade band standards highlighted at both the ninth and eleventh grade levels. Both political standards embody a bureaucratic approach to civic education that requires students to examine, analyze, and understand key elements of American government and politics.
The absence of participatory learning mandates relevant to citizenship, especially in the later years of the high school grade band, make it unclear what kind of academic support is in place to guide Delaware students toward active civic participation as they approach adulthood and full citizenship. There are admirable conceptions of civic education and social studies that reflect a degree of critical social awareness within Delaware’s standards. However, without concrete direction for how to achieve these goals at the local level or mandatory participatory-oriented civics education past grade 9, Delaware students are not guaranteed to learn about active citizenship as they are approaching adulthood. Though the learning objectives within the participation anchor standard are meant to engage students in practicing the skills necessary to be effective civic participants, the inclusion of participatory standards only at the earliest high school level neglects to guide students towards ownership of their own adult civic participation by the time they graduate high school. It seems that civic education is primarily approached through a bureaucratic lens with a few notable participatory elements embedded into the curriculum, such as multiple active objectives to “employ” civic skills. The use of “anchor standards” creates the appearance of a balanced approach to civic education, but investigations into the sequencing and diction of the learning objectives reveal inconsistencies in the space and attention allotted to guiding students through the practices of active citizenship and towards their own independent civic participation.