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The Maryland State Standards and Frameworks in Social Studies were most recently revised in 2020. The revisions are meant to “​​broaden the historical narrative by including marginalized groups and encourage students to learn more about all members of their communities through the inquiry process.” The inquiry process is utilized as pedagogy for the frameworks in social studies and follows the model of the cyclical four-stage inquiry arc. The inquiry pedagogy paired with the perspectives of marginalized groups could provide students with equitable implementation of civic education through a culturally responsive lens. Maryland includes standards for pre-K in its set of elementary standards, providing a distinct set of standards and content topics for each grade from preK to 5th. Content topics at the elementary grade levels are accompanied by essential questions, a performance indicator and learning objectives, and relevant standards for speaking and listening, reading, and writing. Grade-band and course-specific standards for middle and high school do not follow the same framework as the elementary standards, replacing the reading, writing, and speaking and listening standards with a category regarding assessment limits meant to guide educators in evaluating students’ performance in each content area through official examinations. The frameworks of the social studies state standards in Maryland are thoughtfully constructed and accessible to educators through the Maryland Department of Education website. The inquiry approach is integrated in each standards document and consistently highlighted as foundational pedagogy for social studies educators. 

Elementary School

Standards for the civics unit in first grade focus on content topics such as leadership, community, cooperation, problem solving, and civic engagement. The content topic of civic engagement approaches a participatory orientation to civics and is also present in the second grade standards. In third grade, a new content topic is introduced and named as informed action. The essential question of the informed action topic is “how can I contribute to my community,” which implies a positioning of students as engaged community members practicing meaningful forms of civic engagement. The indicator and objectives for this topic include two standards that embody a participatory orientation to civics. One expects students to develop “a plan for effectively organizing and communicating a plan for addressing a current issue,” which enables students to practice choosing a meaningful issue and engaging with others about a plan of action. The second participatory learning objective expects students to “address local community issues” by “implementing an informed civic action plan on a current issue.” The mandate to implement an action plan effectively positions students as practitioners of meaningful civic engagement. In fourth and fifth grade there are no clearly defined civics unit or civics standards. Fourth and fifth grade standards are defined by historical units that do approach ideas of civics. Standards at the fourth and fifth grade levels concern the origins, functions, or evolutions of the founding documents and government of the United States. Most of these standards align with a bureaucratic-orientation to civics education, though the final unit of the fifth grade year approaches ideas of participatory civics with content topics such as “Individuals as Tools for Change,” “Institutions as Tools of Change,” and “Contesting, Upholding, and Redefining Freedom, Rights, and Citizenship: Civil Rights.” The learning objectives for these topics only require students to “assess,” “evaluate,” and “analyze” though they concern ideas that could be approached in more participatory ways.

Middle School

In middle school, standards are presented for sixth and seventh grade within a unified grade-band document and in course-specific standards for the eighth grade year’s focus on United States History. Grades six and seven have one overarching civics content standard that is described by topics with learning objectives that increase in complexity from sixth to seventh grade. The civics content standard for sixth and seventh grade reads: “students shall inquire about the historical development of the fundamental concepts and processes of authority, power, and influence with particular emphasis on civic reasoning in order to become informed, responsible citizens, engage in the political process, and contribute to society.” This general standard represents a participatory orientation to civics with the focus on engagement with political processes and contributions to society. Certain sub-topics such as “Individual and Group Participation in the Political System” move towards a participatory orientation with learning objectives to “analyze” and “evaluate” but never require students to create original work or practice participating in the political system. The middle school civics standard also approaches a character orientation with the question of what responsible citizenship looks like. The topic of “Protecting Rights and Maintaining Order” demonstrates a global lens with learning objectives regarding international comparisons of governments around the world. One section of learning objectives related to this standard concern the “The Foundations and Function of Government,” which embodies a bureaucratic orientation with the focus on learning content concerning bureaucratic processes. Overwhelmingly, the learning objectives for this content standard require students to “analyze” or “examine” without any direct mandates for participation or creation of original work. The inquiry pedagogy would counteract these passive learning objectives and is included in the content standard for skills and processes through the mandate for students to utilize the inquiry arc in their learning. In eighth grade, civics content is integrated into a course on U.S. history. The eighth grade standards document entitled Middle School United States History Framework has a similar structure to the sixth and seventh grade standards and includes one overarching civics standard with identical diction to that of sixth and seventh grade. The standard regarding the skills and processes of the inquiry arc is also similar to the 6-7 grade band standards and includes the objective to “develop, defend, and critique arguments in order to take informed action.” If students are positioned to practice communicating conclusions through the inquiry process, a participatory approach to civics would be applicable to bureaucratic- and character-oriented content. 

High School

High school standards are provided for courses regarding U.S. history, modern world history, and U.S. government. The United States History high school curriculum does not involve civic learning relevant to the present as the course is structured around specific historical eras. The American Government course is structured according to the framework used at the middle and high school levels, which includes the same categories of content topics, essential questions, and indicators and objectives with the addition of a realm titled “assessment limits.” The assessment limits concern the specifics of student understanding that should be measured, generally parallelling the learning objectives for each topic. High school students are required to take the Maryland High School Assessment for government in order to receive their diploma. The high school civics content within the American Government course is largely bureaucratic, with the majority of units focusing on the structures, origins, functions, and branches of government in the United States. Economic, domestic, and foreign policy are the only other units of the course. Overall, the units of the American Government course do not demonstrate a participatory orientation to civics as ideas of individual participation are rarely centered. When topics concerning civic engagement are highlighted, the relevant learning objectives ask students to “explain roles and analyze strategies individuals or groups may use to initiate change in governmental policy and institutions” through “analyzing,” “evaluating,” and “identifying.” That indicator and objectives are connected to the essential question “how do individuals and groups influence government policy,” which is an important inquiry into civic engagement and means of participation. The approach to a participatory-oriented topic does not include any mandate to actually participate or engage with those “tools that individuals or groups may use to influence laws, government policies, and elections” that they are asked to simply “evaluate.” Included as examples of those tools for enacting social change are both “acts of civil disobedience” and “boycotts,” which are unconventional methods of social change that are important to highlight as legitimate means of active civic engagement.


Maryland has intentionally revised its civics curriculum to be more inclusive of diverse perspectives and effectively centers the inquiry arc as pedagogy for social studies. A bureaucratic orientation is most prominent within the civics standards themselves, though the expectation that the inquiry pedagogy will be integrated with civics units and standards implies a participatory approach to bureaucratic content. There are signs of a participatory orientation within the Maryland standards and frameworks, especially demonstrated in the third grade learning objectives to create a plan to address current issues and to implement an action plan in order to contribute to the community. More learning objectives like this at the middle and high school levels would provide students with ongoing opportunities to develop their identities and capabilities as engaged civic participants. At later levels when students have increased capabilities to participate due to their developed abilities to communicate and engage, the civics learning objectives ask students to identify ways that they can affect change in their government without asking them to take any concrete action or practice with various means of participation. Overall, the Maryland State Standards and Frameworks in Social Studies demonstrate consciousness of the importance of inquiry-based learning and participatory civics education without centering these practices at every grade level. 

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