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The Indiana social studies standards were most recently revised in 2020. The revisions of the 2014 standards and the new standards documents are accessible through the Indiana Department of Education website. Notably, Indiana includes a Spanish version of the standards documents for each grade level and high school course. At the K-8 levels, Civics and Government is one of four strands of standards that comprise the social studies academic standards in Indiana. In addition to the academic standards for civics, Indiana provides the public with a Civics Portal that has a section for educators containing civics resources and lesson plans meant to facilitate civics education in the classroom. Not all grade levels are represented in the collection of lesson plans provided, and lessons about the state of Indiana comprise the majority of the resources. The lesson plans provided for the 4th grade are high quality, and one of them embodies a participatory approach to civics with the Make Your Voice Heard lesson that guides students in writing argumentative letters to their statewide elected officials. Other lessons mainly concern Indiana’s advancement to statehood or link to the Indiana Historical Bureau or the Indiana Historical Society. The civics resources for educators webpage contains links to various external sites that provide civics research, lessons, and lesson plans.
Out of all the civics standards presented from Kindergarten through 5th grade, only one standard was revised in 2020. The 3rd grade standard that did evoke a revision regards the significance of fundamental democratic principles and ideals. The 2014 version of this standard included one example of these principles and ideals: “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The 2020 revision added the “five foundations of democracy (social equality, majority rule, minority rights, freedom, and integrity)” to the examples for that standard. This was the only revision made to the elementary civics standards. This standard contains important concepts to approach in elementary education to develop students’ civic knowledge and senses of social responsibility, but the revision doesn’t effectively address the complexity of these fundamental democratic principles and ideals, nor the conflicts regarding various modern day interpretations of those fundamental rights and concepts. Other standards are left similarly vague in the face of complexity, such as the standard that requires students to ”explain that the United States government is founded on the belief of equal rights for its citizens” without approaching the historical reality that ideas of citizenship were very limited and only imbued certain social identities with the rights that come with citizenship. Even today many would argue that there still are not equal rights for all United States citizens and movements towards equal rights have been hard won by those who are marginalized within U.S. democracy.
Overall the elementary standards demonstrate a bureaucratic- and character-orientation towards civics education with some implications of a participatory approach. Elementary school students are exposed to the basics of state and national government structure and function along with discussions of civic virtues while also getting the opportunity to research local issues and provide synthesized solutions. Most of the elementary standards in Indiana require students to process prescribed content through mandates to “explain,” “identify,” and “describe.” Two standards require discussion. When the active verb of a standard is “discuss,” the content of the standard is leading students towards certain perspectives and conclusions, such as the mandates to “discuss the reasons governments are needed” and “discuss and explain the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance.” In first grade there is also a standard that requires students to “repeat the Pledge of Allegiance and understand that it is a promise to be loyal to the United States,” which positions students as unquestioning patriots who don’t get to investigate what loyalty to a nation can look like in various forms, such as how it can take the shape of critical social change for the betterment of the nation.
The only active mandates for civic participation come in 4th and 5th grade with learning objectives to “use a variety of resources to take a position or recommend a course of action on a public issue relating to Indiana’s past or present” and “use a variety of information resources to identify and evaluate contemporary issues that involve civic responsibility, individual rights, and the common good,” respectively. These standards represent a participatory orientation that would allow students to practice civic engagement at the different levels of society if effectively implemented with proper scaffolding. The 4th grade focus on social issues in the state of Indiana followed by the broader 5th grade lens regarding contemporary issues on any level of society would enable students to choose what kind of issue they want to focus on within two different contexts. Other standards reveal the missed opportunity for participatory learning objectives. One 5th grade standard requires students to “examine ways by which citizens may effectively voice opinions, monitor government, and bring about change in government including voting, and participation in the election process.” Though this standard approaches important aspects of civic engagement, it does so through a lens of examination rather than scaffolded emergent participation.
In middle school, civics standards are divided into three categories: Foundations of Government, Functions of Government, and Roles of Citizens. The latter category is highlighted at the 8th grade level and given one standard in the 6th and 7th grade levels. One 8th grade Roles of Citizens standard embodies a participatory orientation to civics with the learning objective to “research and defend positions on issues in which fundamental values and principles related to the United States Constitution are in conflict such as: 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, the right to privacy, and the rights of the individual.” Positioning students as active defenders of their own conclusions is a form of participatory civics when related to the changing meanings and realities of national documents such as the Constitution. A mandate like that one would set students up for knowledgeably debating contemporary issues, creating their own conclusions, and pursuing their own agency in regards to the evolving U.S. democracy. The most passive learning objectives at the middle school level mainly ask students to “identify,” “explain,” “describe,” “define,” and “examine.” A number of mandates require students to “compare and contrast,” especially at the 7th grade level, which is focused on Eastern and African cultures. Both the 7th and 6th grade level standard content is in regards to a global investigation of the functions and foundations of international governments. The 6th grade level approaches historical and international civic concepts without specificity in how educators can approach the idea of citizenship and citizens’ roles in accessible ways. Only one objective at the 6th grade level hints at a participatory orientation with a mandate to “discuss the impact of major forms of government in Europe and the Americas on civil and human rights,” which could provide students with the opportunity to create and share their own opinions if implemented intentionally.
The course-specific standards in high school include eleven social studies topics, none of which include “civic” in the title. Some of these courses potentially have standards related to participatory civics education, such as United States Government, United States History, Indiana Studies, Global Economics, and Ethnic Studies. High school students are required to take the semester-long United States Government class in order to graduate. In the government course, high school students are tasked with gaining a deeper understanding of the nation’s founding documents, the nature of politics and government, the purposes of governmental institutions, landmark supreme court decisions, foreign policy, and the roles of citizens in the United States. One mandate for the government course does position students as participants in class discussions about current political issues, but the high school United States Government curriculum mostly demonstrates a bureaucratic orientation to civics with some allusion to participatory elements without clear mandates for the creation of original work. The substance of this course’s content naturally aligns with a bureaucratic orientation, but it could be approached by more participatory means. Most of the civics learning objectives at the high school level expect students to “identify,” “analyze,” or “define” various aspects of citizenship and roles of citizens in the United States without providing students with concrete opportunities to practice active participation in their community and society.
Indiana civics standards do demonstrate some signs of a participatory orientation, though the majority of standards and content is bureaucratic in substance. Civics has more prominence at the elementary level than at the middle or high school levels, and elementary civics demonstrates more signs of participatory approaches, even if they are only a fraction of the overall standards. Learning objectives in Indiana rarely asked students to perform higher-order thinking tasks, though there were a few notable exceptions to this omission of mandates to create or participate. Elementary standards regarding the creation and presentation of original opinions on contemporary social issues best exemplified a participatory approach to civics education, including the Make Your Voice Heard lesson plan that is connected with two 4th grade civics and government standards. With few exceptions, most civics standards in Indiana are relatively vague and leave educators to approach the content standards with their own pedagogy and discretion. Certain civics resources found in the Civics Portal are relevant to certain content standards, but those connections are not made explicit within the standards documents. Overall, the 2020 revisions to the 2014 social studies standards hardly changed the substance and quality of Indiana civics standards, which remain lacking in participatory learning mandates.