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Michigan’s social studies standards were most recently revised in 2019. Michigan connects the goals of social studies education with “The Responsibilities of Civic Participation” and elaborates on what the expectations of responsible students are in each realm of social studies. Michigan clearly defines responsible citizenship as “requiring active participation in our communities,” which embodies a participatory approach to the character-oriented question of responsible citizens’ dispositions. The focus on civic engagement as means of demonstrating civic responsibility connects with the goal of social studies instruction to engage students in learning about civic participation while also “being involved in the civic life of their communities, our state, and our nation”. According to the “civic perspective,” being a responsible student means “understanding American government and politics to make informed decisions about governing and their community. In addition to the historical, geographic, and economic perspectives, there are indicators of student responsibility associated with “inquiry,” “public discourse and decision making,” and “civic participation.” The realms work together to create a vision of responsible citizenship that involves meaningful civic participation. The “civic participation” lens especially embodies a participatory approach to civics and social studies with the vision of responsible students as community members “acting constructively to further the public good.” Michigan utilizes the guiding principles of the C3 framework as a foundation for recommended pedagogy and classroom culture in alignment with a participatory approach to student learning. Paired with the expressed goal of social studies to prepare students “to participate in political life, to serve their communities, and to conduct themselves responsibly,” Michigan demonstrates a participatory orientation to the concept of citizenship and the approach to teaching civics as interwoven with social studies.

Within the overarching discipline of social studies, five thematic categories of learning content are identified and described with various subthemes. Two of those five categories directly relate to civics education: “Civics and Government” and “Public Discourse, Decision Making, and Citizen Involvement.” Both of these categories have a subtheme entitled “Civic Participation,” which is defined differently within the two realms of social studies. Under the topic of civics and government, civic participation is described with the learning objective to “explain important rights and how, when and where people can demonstrate their responsibilities by participating in government.” Within the category of public discourse, decision making, and citizen involvement, the topic of civic participation is defined by the objective to “act constructively to further the public good.” This view of citizen involvement aligns with a participatory approach to civics education that positions students as civic actors practicing informed civic engagement. The fifth category of social studies especially stands out with a participatory orientation to civics that engages students in learning involving the three topics of: “Identifying and Analyzing Public Issues,” “Persuasive Communication,” and “Civic Participation.” That strand of standards regarding public discourse, decision making, and citizen involvement seems to pair with the inquiry arc to create opportunities for students to participate in pragmatic civics education and practice with different means of civic engagement.

Elementary School

Michigan presents grade-band expectations for K-2 and 3-5 alongside specific standards for each grade level. Each grade level includes sample compelling and supporting questions, which at the K-2 level are all relevant to civics education and at the 3-5 levels are more connected to the other realms of social studies such as economics and geography. The K-2 grades contain standards that demonstrate a participatory orientation to civics, exemplified by learning objectives that position students to “use democratic procedures to make decisions on civic issues in the school or classroom” or “participate in projects to help or inform others.” The learning objective to “participate” is present at least one in every elementary grade level set of standards, and the realm of civic participation is central to every elementary year from K-5. Though learning objectives at the early elementary level often ask students to “explain” or “describe,” there are notable standards that expect students to practice active participation with means of civic engagement. One standard that is present at every grade level from Kindergarten through 5th grade asks students to essentially “develop and implement an action plan to address or inform others about a school issue,” with the addition to “know how, when, and where to address or inform others about a public issue” in the upper elementary grade levels. The focus of that standard positions students to create original work and develop personal senses of civic agency that pair with practical knowledge about civic engagement and public communication. The overarching grade level standards intentionally integrate the inquiry pedagogy with the phrase “individually and collaboratively, students will engage in planned inquiries” consistently preceding the grade level standard for each realm of social studies.

Middle School

In middle school, not every year of the 6-8 grade-band has a “grade level focus” in one of the realms of social studies directly involving civics education. Each year has a specified theme for social studies, and in grades 6 and 7 the focus is on world geography and world history. In sixth grade both realms of civics standards are highlighted as grade level foci, with the four subtopics of the Civics and Government strand covered and the three subtopics of the Public Discourse strand covered. Sixth and seventh grade standards do approach the realm of civic participation with a participatory orientation as in each grade there is the learning objective to “participate in projects to help or inform others” as well as a learning objective to “engage in activities intended to contribute to solving a national or international problem studied.” The latter objective approaches historical concepts through a participatory lens with a project-based and student-centered orientation to practicing civic engagement. In eighth grade, the Public Discourse strand is “embedded in the context of history,” as the realm of History is the only one highlighted as a grade level focus for that year. Eighth grade consists of a thematic analysis of U.S. history by era, covering five eras spanning from the nation’s beginnings to 1877. The civic perspective is meant to be embedded in the context of this history, including the questions of the “values and principles of American democracy” and the “role of the citizen in American democracy,” which approach character–oriented civics education content. In eighth grade there is a clear bureaucratic-orientation to the content as the roles, functions, and purposes of government are the main focus of the civic perspective and the historical context approached. Certain middle school grade-band standards demonstrate a participatory orientation to civics with learning objectives to “plan, conduct, and evaluate the effectiveness of activities intended to advance views on matters of public policy” or “construct arguments expressing and justifying decisions on public policy issues supported with evidence.” These standards resonate with the inquiry pedagogy and would effectively position students as practitioners of civic engagement relevant to public topics and policy issues they find meaningful. 

High School

The high school social studies content expectations presents a strand for civics education that applies to the 9-12 grade band. The civics high school content expectations are comprehensive and approach various topics of civics through the inquiry arc. The overarching standards for Public Discourse and Civic Participation are present in the high school years and demonstrate a participatory orientation towards the content studied. The identified “social studies process and skills” standards contain learning objectives such as “apply,” “construct,” or “act” that positions students as active participants in demonstrating their learning and practicing the skills of inquiry, public discourse, and civic participation. A strand of civics standards is integrated with other topics at the high school level in the form of various compelling questions that align with the historical eras covered throughout the units of the high school history and geography curriculum framework. The civics content in high school mainly concerns the founding documents and structures of the U.S. government, representing a bureaucratic orientation to civics content. However, the way the content is approached resembles a participatory orientation, especially within the “process and skills possibilities” presented for each realm of the civics strand of standards. Those possible learning objectives for civics include participatory mandates such as “research an issue concerning one of the First Amendment five protections [and] put on a mock trial using the evidence from the case to review the evidence and decide” and “research and write amicus briefs” concerning all sides of “a pressing issue under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection of the law,” which positions the class to simulate civic processes and position individual students to create and evaluate original work concerning bureaucratic civics content. 

The expectations that Michigan has for high school social studies have a foundation in those key inquiry practices and revolve around the historical content and geographic context described within the high school content expectations. The high school social studies curriculum is a requisite for students to receive a high school diploma. The history and geography focus pertains to discrete eras of U.S. history concluding with the era of “America in a new global age” and the topic of current policy debates on international and national levels. The topics of global citizenship and public policy are approached in ways that resemble a participatory orientation as recommended learning objectives include collaborating to develop possible public policy solutions to community needs and simulating a public hearing to develop and defend proposals for public policy officials. Educators are also recommended to implement simulated voting opportunities for students in the district after students “research and design a campaign” to present information schoolwide and encourage other students in the school to vote. This sort of approach to public policy debates and civic engagement positions students as active participants in learning activities that simulate civic processes such as public hearings or informed voting. In this way, the bureaucratic and historical content is approached through a participatory lens that prioritizes active learning mandates for processes and skills relevant to civic engagement.


Michigan demonstrates a participatory orientation to civics education throughout the social studies curriculum framework. Michigan’s inclusion of a distinct civic participation strand displays a dedication to developing civic engagement in student citizens, and the focus on public discourse centers practices that involve students in practices to develop civic agency and participatory skills. The main impediment to the effective implementation of the participatory oriented standards set forth in the Michigan content expectations is the distinction between required and suggested content. The differentiation between required and suggested content influences the way the content expectations must be implemented on the local level, as the social studies content expectations for Michigan may suggest participatory examples for approaching the content expectations that are not mandated as requirements for local districts and individual teachers. It is expressed that local districts and individual educators may utilize the suggested content and recommended expectations as a reference or starting point for instruction without being required to incorporate every example or suggested content standard. Required content is limited to the language and content of the expectations themselves, which have less participatory learning objectives and more mandates for learning that involve verbs such as “analyze,” “evaluate,” “explain,” or “describe.” However, some of the requisite content expectations themselves embody a participatory orientation to civics, such as one learning expectation for the branch of civics concerning “Civic Inquiry, Public Policy, Civic Action, and Public Discourse” that expects high school teachers to “equip students with the skills and knowledge to explore multiple pathways for knowledgeable, civic engagement through simulations and/or realworld opportunities for involvement.” Though the list of examples are not required to be used to teach that content expectation, it is a statewide mandate that civics education should include simulations or pragmatic learning opportunities. Overall, Michigan demonstrates a significantly participatory orientation to civics education through the integration of the inquiry arc as guiding pedagogy and various learning objectives that prioritize active high-order thinking functions. 

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