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Maine’s social studies standards were most recently revised in 2019 and include a strand regarding civics and government. Civics & Government is one of the four disciplines of the Maine Learning Results for Social Studies, which are meant to be taught in an interwoven way so each pillar disciplines informs the others. Maine refers to the C3 framework set forth by the National Council for the Social Studies as a guide for its social studies standards and goals. Maine also provides resources for educators regarding civics and government education, including the guidebook to the six proven practices for effective civic learning and the iCivics website among many external links. The Maine Learning Results for Social Studies identify five guiding principles that are meant to be reflected throughout the interdisciplinary social studies curriculum. Each guiding principle is connected with a suggestion for how students can demonstrate evidence of meeting each objective. For example, students can demonstrate clear and effective communication through giving audiovisual presentations about current issues, which resonates with a participatory orientation that positions students as creators of original work that is worth sharing with real-world audiences. Other guiding principles prioritize learning that enables students to become self-directed lifelong learners, creative and practical problem solvers, and integrated and informed thinkers. The guiding principle most relevant to civics is the Responsible and Involved Citizen principle, wherein students “practice and apply the duties of citizenship through the exercise of constitutional rights” in a participatory approach to bureaucratic content regarding the comprehension of constitutional rights. Pedagogically, Maine uses a “spiraling” approach for K-12 education wherein the students can expect to see the same topics each school year that increase in complexity and build on prior learning.
Each grade level from K-5 has an overarching civics and government standard described by multiple performance expectations for each grade-level standard. The standard for each grade level is the same, reading: “Students draw on concepts from civics and government to understand political systems, power, authority, governance, civic ideals and practices, and the role of citizens in the community, Maine, the United States, and the world.” The complexity of the standard approaches a comprehensive view of civics education but the performance expectations for the elementary grade levels expect students to spend most of their time explaining, providing examples, and describing. There is one standard at the fourth grade level that demonstrates a participatory orientation to civics. Embedded within the larger learning objective to “understand the basic rights, duties, responsibilities, and roles of citizens in a democratic republic” is the requirement that they demonstrate this understanding by “selecting, planning, and participating in a civic action or service-learning project based on a classroom, school, or local community asset or need.” This standard embodies a participatory approach to civics that positions students as active participants through active project-based learning, especially as it concludes with the mandate to “describe evidence of the project’s effectiveness and civic contribution.” The sharing of original work with real-world audiences is an effective way for students to practice civic engagement as young citizens, especially if they are positioned to create and evaluate their own work in order to develop an evolving relationship with civic engagement based on their own sense of civic agency. That standard could be highlighted at every grade level through a culturally responsive lens that encourages students to pursue projects and issues that they find meaningful. However, it is only at the second and fourth grade levels that civic action is part of a performance expectation meant to guide that year’s civic learning.
The strand of standards for civics and government are contained within the 6-8 grade band standards for social studies. The learning objectives at the middle school level largely require students to “analyze,” “explain,” and “describe.” The three categories of civics and government performance expectations at the middle school level pertain to three distinct sectors of civic education. The first realm of performance expectations concerns the origins, structures, and functions of various levels of government in an entirely bureaucratic orientation to civics. Within this realm, students are asked to comprehend governmental concepts such as federalism and checks and balances, compare forms of government, and compare federal and state law-making processes. In a vague approach to a participatory orientation, one standard in this category asks students to analyze “examples of democratic ideals and constitutional principles that include the rule of law, legitimate power, and common good.” The mandate to analyze paired with a vague definition of democratic ideals and constitutional principles does not effectively position students as emergent citizens in a democratic society with developing senses of their own ideals and principles. The second realm of middle school civics and government contains a standard regarding the “status of ‘citizen’” and the “rights, duties, and responsibilities of citizens.” Though the learning objective requires students to “explain” the status of citizenship and “provide examples” of citizens’ rights, duties, and responsibilities, the nuances and complexities of those concepts are left to local educators’ discretion. One of the middle school standards does embody a participatory approach to civic education. This learning objective requires students to analyze “how people influence government and work for the common good,” with the provided examples of “voting, writing to legislators, performing community service, and engaging in civil disobedience through selecting, planning, and implementing a civic action or service-learning project based on a school, community, or state asset or need, and analyze the project’s effectiveness and civic contribution.” If this objective centered on the final example of implementing and evaluating a civic action of service-learning project through a direct mandate for students to participate in that kind of project-based learning, the participatory orientation would be stronger.
The high school civics and government strand apply to the 9-12 grade band and are described as 9th grade through diploma. As with the middle school standards, the learning objectives consist of mandates to “explain,” “evaluate,” “analyze,” and “describe” with the occasional objective to “compare.” The third category of the civics and government strand of standards concerns the concept of cultural diversity within the realms of politics and civics. Learning objectives in this category concern issues related to unity, political structures and civic responsibilities of diverse Maine cultures, including indigenous peoples of Maine, and the political powers and perspectives of diverse cultures of the United States and the world. These three mandates require students to “explain,” “describe,” and “analyze,” respectively. Though these are important civic topics that approach ideas of justice and cultural diversity in a semblance of a participatory orientation towards citizenship, the relatively passive learning mandates don’t position students to create their own work or share their own opinions with real world audiences. These practices are important at the high school level when students are emerging as full legal citizens. The high school learning standard that most resembles a participatory approach to civics mirrors the participatory middle school mandate with the allusion to students’ participation in a “civic action or service-learning project.” The high school standard does approach a more direct mandate for that sort of project-based civic learning, as the learning objective expects students to practice “analyzing constitutional and political aspects of historical and/or current issues that involve unity and diversity in Maine, the United States, and other nations through selecting, planning, and implementing a civic action or service-learning project based on a community, school, state, national, or international asset or need, and evaluate the project’s effectiveness and civic contribution.” If the implication that students will analyze through implementing and evaluating a project is true, this standard would effectively position students as practicing participants in civic engagement.
Overall, the 2019 Maine Learning Results for Social Studies demonstrate a participatory orientation to civics through inclusion of civic action and service-learning projects in the standard learning objectives for civics and government. Civics is given prominence in the social studies curriculum, and the 2019 standards seem to expand ideas of inclusion within the realm of civics through the topics of citizenship, diversity, and unity. The state of Maine has legislation concerning civics education, which establishes that a course in government is a required subject for graduation in addition to a course in “civics and personal finance.” Legislation from 1991 also asserts that “Maine Native American history and culture must be taught in all elementary and secondary schools, both public and private” and clarifies that “the phrase ‘Maine Native Americans’ refers to the four Maine Native American tribes.” If the integration of indigenous studies into the required social studies curriculum is effectively implemented, it would move towards positioning marginalized groups as leading members of democracy moving forward. Paired with the category of civics standards regarding “political and civic aspects of cultural diversity,” there are signs of a culturally responsive approach to civic education that moves towards a vision of inclusive democracy that centers those who were historically marginalized. With more direct mandates for participation within the learning objectives for civics and government education, Maine could help its students move towards practicing civic participation and developing individualized senses of civic agency.