Table of Contents
The content standards for social studies in Idaho were updated in 2016 and present goals and objectives for each of the four typical realms of social studies as well as a fifth set of standards for Global Perspectives. The five standard subjects are History, Geography, Economics, Civics and Government, and Global Perspectives. There are specific goals and objectives for each grade level of elementary education from K through 5th grade that correspond to an overarching summative standard for Civics and Government that is presented at each of these grade levels. Past 5th grade, the standards are organized by theme and grade band, including standards and objectives related to a civics topic that spans from 6-9th grade, 9-12th grade, or even 6-12th grade. Idaho’s elementary civics standards are integrated into the social studies curriculum as requisite learning, and in high school students are required to take five credits in social studies before graduation. Two of those credits must be received through participation in a government course, two must be completed through a United States history course, and one credit would be gained from an economics course. The grade band standards in the social studies document introduce and describe each thematic courses in geography, world history, U.S. history, economics, and American government. For each grade level and themed grade-band course, the subjects have goals that the students should reach by the end of the year, and each of these goals have multiple objectives that the students should approach throughout the year as they move towards the overarching standard goal.
The elementary standards for civics in Idaho represent both bureaucratic and character-oriented approaches without signs of participatory pedagogy. Goals and objectives regarding bureaucratic or character education dominate the K-5 standards, and the approaches to these goals and objectives are not student centered or inquiry based. The elementary standards seem to focus mainly on teaching the students about the rules and laws of their community and the symbols and customs of the United States. The mandates that do approach concepts of civic participation require passive action from students. For example, in 3rd grade students are expected to “identify ways children and adults can participate in their community and/or local governments” without actually being required to practice engaging in any of those means of civic participation. Another example is the 5th grade learning objective that expects students to “describe ways in which citizens participate in public life.” These lower-order thinking objectives to identify or describe deprive students of the opportunities to practice participating in social life as emergent citizens.
The mentions of citizenship at the elementary level of standards are vague and simplistic without learning mandates for original creations or practice in civic participation. The character-oriented objective for second grade approaches the idea of “good citizenship” with an objective asking students to “identify” such characteristics as “courage, honesty, and responsibility.” The only other objective at the elementary level that refers directly to citizenship is an extremely broad mandate in fourth grade regarding the goal to “build an understanding of the evolution of democracy.” This objective requires students to “discuss” the concept of citizenship along with the concepts of “popular sovereignty, respect for the individual, equality of opportunity, and personal liberty.” These are huge and complex concepts of democracy and society that are left undefined for Idaho educators. In this way, the elementary standards reveal gaps in conceptual definitions that educators could fill in with harmful subjectivities or assimilationist expectations. In particular, introducing students to concepts of character education through a lens of patriotism can be extremely harmful as the symbols, norms, and character values of the U.S. may represent for many the realities of oppression and injustice that they might seek to transform through their own civic agency.
The middle school social studies standards consist of two geography courses and one course regarding world history and civilization. Middle school content standards also include the goals and objectives relating to the 6-12 grade band standards for US History I. The US History I grade band goals and objectives don’t indicate any differentiation for the seven-year span of education the standards are meant to cover nor do they associate objectives with specific grade levels. The civic strand of those U.S. History standards expect students to form an understanding of the foundational principles, organization, and formation of the U.S. political and governmental systems as well as the “evolution of democracy.” That goal to “build an understanding of the evolution of democracy” is crucial for effective civics education that positions students as active participants in the ongoing evolution of democratic society. However, for the entire 6-12 grade band only one objective is presented. The learning objective for students to “describe the role of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin on the development of individual rights and political rights” could be approached with bias or simplicity when educators teach complex content filtered through their own subjectivity. Leaving contentious content to the discretion of educators can be especially harmful when the content is rooted in the reality of inequitable power structures that still influence the functioning of U.S. democracy. The concept of full citizenship is tied to the social realities that continue to exclude and marginalize members of society based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin. Students should be able to do more than “describe the role” of these social identities on the development of individual and political rights when they continue to define the quality of civic opportunity for members of U.S. society.
The social studies courses offered at the high school level include US History I and II, American Government, and Economics. Students in Idaho must complete two credits in the topics of U.S. History and government, respectively, and one credit in economics to graduate high school. This implies that the 9-12 grade band courses are requisites for students, though it is unclear if these content standards refer to two-credit courses meant to be offered at a particular grade level or whether the grade band standards apply to multiple single-credit courses taken during different high school years. Overall, the standards from the high school courses represent bureaucratic content that is approached without concrete mandates for participation or creation of original work by students. Some objectives appear to allude to critical participation in society, such as those in the US History II course that expect students to “identify” impacts of landmark Supreme Court cases and “provide and evaluate examples of social and political leadership in American history” or that in the American Government course expecting students to “discuss how the interpretation and application of the United States Constitution has evolved.” The objectives themselves are the only guidance that educators have for approaching these important civic topics, and the most participatory of the learning mandates only requires discussion. Each of these topics are part of ongoing debates regarding the meaning and efficacy of the U.S. governmental and political systems and are crucial realms to consider when teaching about the diversity of civic activism. Any approach to the goal of understanding “all people in the United States have rights” should acknowledge that lack of equity in rights under modern political and legal structures. A perfunctory recognition of the complexity of these civic institutions would not be adequate in guiding students to develop senses of agency relevant to the evolving concept of democratic justice, nor in equipping them with the critical skills necessary to enact that agency through civic participation.
Overall, the standards and objectives for civic learning in Idaho reflect passive approaches to civic content wherein students do not get opportunities to create original work or practice civic participation in relevant contexts. Students are mainly asked to “explain,” “identify,” or “describe” rather than “create,” “practice,” or “demonstrate.” Descriptions and identifications of civic participation are not equivalent to pragmatic practice. Mandates for discussion most closely approach participatory learning, but the lack of guidance for educators makes it unclear how discussions will be implemented on the local level. Students should be expected to take an active role in their own civic learning as practice for full civic engagement as adults while being scaffolding by educators on how to participate actively at the local or community level as young citizens. Despite Idaho’s stated intention to help students develop those critical skills necessary to participate fully in society, such as the creation of new knowledge or the development of policies and arguments, no standards from Idaho position students as active citizens practicing the creation of original work or the development of critical skills in civic participation. Without a participatory approach to bureaucratic content, students may gain a solid understanding of the structures and functions of the United State’s government but lack practical abilities to actively participate in civic society. Furthermore, without a critical participatory approach to character education, students may learn about the norms and status quos of U.S. society without developing the agency or tools to act back on society through multiple means of civic participation.