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Wyoming’s civics and government education standards focus largely on instilling a sense of patriotism and an understanding of the structure and function of state and local government and generally neglect citizenship education that encourages active participation. There are gaps and terms left undefined in these state standards, which are a compilation of standards from 2014 that are under ongoing development and last updated in 2018. Specifically, there are gaps between grade level checkpoints that specify learning outcomes without guidance on how standards should be broken down by grade or applied in practice. Wyoming State law requires instruction in civics education to be given for only three years between the grades K-8 and one year during high school; this law could account for the gaps in the standards that isolate civics education from the social studies curriculum as a whole.
The content standards at the elementary level are minimally comprehensive and do little to encourage students to be actively involved in political processes or civil society on the local or school level. Little guidance exists regarding the learning outcomes identified for the end of the second and fifth grades. Furthermore, key concepts used within the content standards, such as the idea of “good citizenship” or the implicit correctness of following rules and laws, are left undefined and undiscussed in terms of how to communicate the complexity and social significance of those ideas and norms. The learning outcomes at the elementary school level include expectations that students will be able to understand the purpose of government, make historically-based connections between the past and present, and demonstrate knowledge of citizenship “rights and responsibilities” across various communities, including Indigenous and tribal communities. These goals are not accompanied by a clear definition of what civics skills are defined under the umbrella of “rights and responsibilities,” which strategies of engaging with government are taught, nor guidance on how this material is made appropriately accessible for elementary learning.
At the middle school level, the focus seems weighted towards hypothetical citizenship and civic education and away from pragmatic civic education on the personal or local level. The learning outcomes for the eighth grade level consist of the expectations to “explain” the “rights, duties, and responsibilities” of a U.S. citizen, “explain” how to “participate in the political process,” “explain” the historical development of the state and national governments and constitutions, “understand” the different levels of U.S. criminal and legal systems, “describe” the national and state founding documents with a clarified focus on the “special relationships” created with tribal communities within these documents, and, finally, “understand” various political systems. These passive action imperatives lack any requirements for active participation, inquiry, or student-led initiatives that put civic agency into practice. Additionally, it is again unclear what “rights, duties, and responsibilities” are being taught, which methods of organizing and engaging in politics students are exposed to, and what kind of citizenship responsibilities will be centered.
At the high school level, Wyoming requires a civics exam to graduate and a one year course on civics and government. These are minimal requirements in terms of civics education at the high school level. The content standards and learning outcomes upon graduation build on those identified as expectations at the end of eighth grade. Students are expected to both demonstrate a deeper and more personal understanding of all of the previous standards and also have the ability to pass the requisite graduation exam, the method of assessment for which is left unidentified. There is more evidence of a participatory approach to education within the high school standards that use action verbs such as “compare and contrast” or “analyze and critique.” However, the question remains as to how students will be guided and engaged in these topics within the grades that lack detailed content standards or learning outcomes.
The learning outcomes, or performance level descriptors, for graduating students are the best examples Wyoming demonstrates of pragmatic and participatory civic education. The imperatives to participate as a citizen in the civic process, to analyze and critique structures of power and governance, and to conduct research that creates and defends a position on an issue are great examples of civic education grounded in participation. Paired with adequate guidance for how educators could engage students in these areas and a requisite of civics education at each of the four high school grades, these learning outcomes could form the framework for high-quality civics education Overall, Wyoming’s civics education could be improved: there is a particular lack of participation-based education in the grades prior to high school and of accessible frameworks for teaching to the existing standards and learning outcomes.