Table of Contents
In Arizona, the most recent civics content standards are from 2018 and interwoven with the History and Social Science standards. The Arizona social studies content standards express the goal to enable each generation to gain an “understanding” of the “knowledge, skills, and dispositions” necessary to “participate fully in civic life.” This idea of full civic participation is structured around the development of three central abilities meant to aid students in the “pursuit” of “active, informed citizenship.” To effectively pursue active citizenship, the goal is for Arizona students to be able to “think analytically,” to “read widely and critically,” and to “communicate cogently and in a compelling manner.” The central fallacy with these goals is that they position students as emergent citizens without ever requiring active participation from the position they are currently in as young citizens. The “understanding” of those participatory skills is not the same as the demonstration of those skills, and the “pursuit” of active citizenship is not the same as active civic engagement through whatever means are accessible to the student. Though Arizona places a high value on civic education, the state does not require students to produce original work or pursue their own civic agency at a developmentally appropriate level.
Within the civics discipline, Arizona has identified different content foci for each grade level from K-8. There is an inquiry pedagogy that establishes the recommendation that academic standards should be approached through the six-step inquiry arc. The content is centered on four anchor standards that range in theme from democratic principles to responsible citizenship to political institutions and legal norms. The four anchor standards for Civics demonstrate a balance of bureaucratic- and character-based orientations to civics education. Two of the anchor standards pertain to civic virtues and democratic principles, and the individual rights, roles, and responsibilities of citizens, respectively. The other two standards relate to the processes, rules, and laws of society and the interpretation of civic and political institutions in regards to “effective citizenship.” The idea of effective citizenship is defined by an “understanding of civic and political institutions in society and the principles these institutions are intended to reflect,” which seems to link the practices of citizenship exclusively to knowledge about established structures of law, politics, and government. That approach to citizenship embodies a bureaucratic approach as civic agency is tied to specific knowledge of national political and legal systems without connections to personal agency or ideas of sociopolitical evolution that changes those established legal and political structures.
In early elementary years, the focus is on children as citizens, communities, and the concept of social context. Each early elementary year typically focuses on two of the civics anchor standards with the exception of the kindergarten year which focuses on three anchor civics standards, only excluding the standard regarding civic and political institutions. The kindergarten and first grade civic standards include the participatory-oriented learning objective to “apply values of respect, responsibility, equality, and fairness,” which compels students to practice pragmatic application of those “civic virtues and democratic principles” that are “key to the American political system,” though the standard is presented without recommendations for how educators could implement or evaluate that participatory learning objective. Aside from the objective to “apply” certain virtues, the civics standards at the early elementary level do not demonstrate a participatory orientation; other learning objectives require students to “explain,” “describe,” “follow agreed upon rules,” or “compare,” which are relevant approaches to civics education topics but don’t exactly position students as active participants in civic learning. The anchor standard for civic virtues and democratic principles is highlighted in every early elementary grade level, except for second grade, causing second grade to have no participatory elements visible in their civics standards. For example, second grade students are required to “explain how people work together to identify and solve problems within our world” without being asked to actually work with others to open discussions about relevant issues and their potential solutions.
In later elementary years, the focus moves into an exploration of the state of Arizona in third grade and then continues to an investigation of the different regions and cultures of the U.S. through history-based studies. The anchor standard regarding individual rights, roles, and responsibilities is highlighted at every year of the upper elementary grade levels except for third grade, as third and fifth grade are the years that the civic and political institutions anchor standard is highlighted. Third grade’s civic standards demonstrate a focus on the civic and political institutions standard with learning targeted towards comparisons between Arizona state government, local governments, and national government. There is brief mention of Tribal governments within the learning objective to “describe the origins, functions, and structure of the Arizona Constitutions, local governments, and tribal governments.” This sort of standard represents a bureaucratic orientation to civics and makes up the majority of the upper elementary standards. There is one third grade standard that resembles a participatory orientation with the learning objective that asks students to “use listening, consensus-building, and voting procedures to decide on and act in their classroom,” which would represent an essential form of participatory civics if implemented effectively and intentionally. It is unclear what kind of activities or lessons accompany the standards.
The inquiry pedagogy is meant to be used throughout the curriculum, evidenced by its presence in the standards document and certain objectives that align with the inquiry arc, such as the fourth grade standard that requires students to “use primary and secondary sources to generate questions about the concepts and ideas such as liberty justice, equality, and individual rights.” If those individualized questions are addressed authentically within the classroom, this standard would represent another effective approach to participatory civics. Two standards at the fifth grade level approach important ideas of civic engagement: one asks students to “examine historical and contemporary means of changing society through laws and policies in order to address public problems” and the other requires students to “Use a range of deliberative and democratic procedures to make decisions about and act on issues and civic problems in their classrooms and schools.” The former standard is limiting in its diction because it focuses exclusively on “laws and policies” that change society rather than all means of social change, including grassroots and social justice movements, which are listed in the clarification of key concepts regarding that standard but not included as de facto ways to address public problems. The latter standard embodies a participatory approach if students are authentically engaged in practicing democratic procedures and taking action regarding civic issues at the school level.
In the early middle-school years the content focus is on global studies until eighth grade when it shifts to “citizenship and civic engagement in today’s society.” While there are clear descriptions of the civics learning outcomes within the History and Social Studies standards, the document lacks useful or relevant guidance on how to move towards these specific goals at every grade level. There are three civics standards for sixth grade that require students to “analyze,” “explain,” and “describe and apply civic virtues.” The learning objectives are relevant to civic learning but the themes most relevant to civic participation are expressed without clear instruction on how instructors can incorporate those learning outcomes and implement relevant lessons at each grade level. There are sometimes “key concepts” listed after certain objectives to recommend certain themes or topics that align with exploration of the related standard. For example, the sixth grade objective that requires students to “describe and apply civic virtues including deliberative processes that contribute to the common good and democratic principles in school, community, and government” is paired with the following key concepts: “civility, respect for the rights of others, individual responsibility, respect for law, open mindedness, critical examination of issues, negotiation and compromise, civic mindedness, compassion, patriotism, conciliation, and consensus building.” Each of those key concepts could merit their own learning objective, and all together they create a comprehensive learning objective that instructors might struggle to approach effectively and objectively.
Seventh grade standards do not include any participatory-oriented standards, as learning objectives largely ask students to “explain,” “compare,” “assess,” or “analyze.” One two-part standard includes the learning objective to “apply a range of deliberative and democratic procedures to make decisions and act in local, regional, and global communities” without clarifying how students will gain access to decision-making procedures on the regional and global levels. Similarly, eighth grade includes the participatory-oriented standards asking students to “demonstrate civic virtues that contribute to the common good and democratic principles within a variety of deliberative processes and settings” and “engage in projects to help or inform others such as community service and service-learning projects.” While these standards are participatory in orientation, it is unclear as to how educators can provide students with the opportunities to participate in a variety of deliberative processes and settings or structure the implementation of various student-led projects. Furthermore, the standard regarding civic projects proposes service learning and community service as the official suggestions, leaving out project-based learning rooted in civic engagement unrelated to community service such as organizing petitions or protests.
The guidance for the high school course in civics/government simply includes a list of relevant topics that educators should teach. The single page within the standards that addresses the high school civics course suggests that educators can approach this education thematically, chronologically, or chrono-thematically without giving comprehensive examples of any of those approaches. There is an emphasis put on the goal to “engage students/learners in the inquiry process and to educate students about the roles and responsibilities of citizenship” without any recommendations for how to engage students in inquiry or any definitions of the roles and responsibilities of citizenship. Without these clarifications, civics education is left to the discretion of individual instructors. Furthermore, without concrete mandates for participation or guidance for instructors on how to approach civics from a participatory orientation, the resulting education could easily fall short of these goals for student-led inquiry. The four anchor standards are emphasized as central learning outcomes at the high school level, but the learning imperatives don’t require students to demonstrate active participation or to create any original work. Students are set up to “explore” how to “become” active citizens without ever being positioned as currently active citizens or required to produce original work at a developmentally appropriate level. Learning outcomes at the high school level do not reflect high-order thinking imperatives for active participation or student-led creation.
In 2018, Governor Ducey signed the American Civics Act bill SB 1444 with the purpose of promoting civics education through the creation of the American Civics Education Pilot program for high school. The requirement of the pilot program is that all high school students take one semester of a civics course and complete a basic civics assessment as a graduation requirement. The required assessment is identical to the naturalization test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and students are required to correctly answer at least 60 of the 100 questions. The question of how relevant or effective the USCIS test is for assessing qualities of active and engaged citizenship is left unaddressed. This requisite to pass an irrelevant test does not necessarily guide graduating students towards useful civic learning. This requisite does not embody an assessment that aims to inform civic learning or to ensure the development of proactive citizens through evaluation of participatory civic engagement. It is unclear how the participatory-oriented standards are evaluated, especially those that involve projects or deliberative democratic processes. While these learning objectives approach important realms of civic engagement and essential skills for developing students’ identities as active citizens, there are potential barriers to implementing and evaluating the projects and processes students should be engaging in.
Arizona does demonstrate an effective pedagogical approach to civic education that, when paired with higher-order thinking imperatives, could move towards high-quality civics education for all students. The pedagogical foundation of Arizona’s standards is the model of inquiry, described as a “six element,” process. The “inquiry arc” follows a sequence of assessing compelling questions to land at the final step of “taking informed action.” Within this pedagogical framework, students are encouraged to engage on a personal level with education in alignment with the personal engagement with society that civics education should promote. This model of inquiry appears to be an effective approach to student-centered civic learning and participatory engagement.The final step of taking informed action specifically embodies a participatory-oriented approach to civic education, as it requires students to “use their disciplinary knowledge, skills, and perspectives to inquire about problems involved in public issues, deliberate with others on how to define and address these issues, take constructive and collaborative action, and reflect on that action.” If this interactive step of the inquiry arc was a requisite step of every unit of civic learning, Arizona could approach a sufficiently participatory civic education. Similarly, if participatory elements were included in every grade level and required to be implemented and evaluated, students would be ensured practice with civic engagement projects and processes.