This is part 2 in Sutherland’s new series that seeks to examine how Utah education standards prepare students to be active citizens. In this part, we analyze current social studies standards for grades K-6. While there are United States Government and Citizenship standards in grades 7-12, there are no separate civics education standards in grades K-6.
In an age of civil unrest, “cancel culture,” and social pressure to agree with certain policy ideas, more Americans are wondering: To what degree do we really have freedom of speech?
The American Founders understood that the new republic would only survive if education taught the unique form of government to the next generation. Thus, our public education system was born with the unique task of equipping students with a commitment to and the skills for living out fundamental principles of liberty, including freedom of speech, religious liberty, limited government, due process and others.
The Utah State Board of Education is currently in the standards revision process for the Utah State Social Studies standards for elementary school grades (kindergarten through sixth grade), with the goal of releasing draft revised standards to the public at the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021. Sutherland Institute is seeking to understand how well Utah’s current social studies standards help students fulfill their duties in civil society and government. For this first review, we are specifically looking at freedom of speech.
To help assess how well the current standards help students fulfill their duties in civil society and government with regard to freedom of speech, we have decided to look for two main factors: how well the standards (1) teach skills for civic discourse and (2) incorporate primary source founding documents.
In grades K-2, standards, objectives, and indicators do not directly reference or outline the meaning of freedom of speech. This may be the case because “freedom of speech” can be a more abstract concept and early foundational documents are difficult to understand.
Skills for civic discourse
However, the standards in these grades do prompt some application of freedom of speech. For example, young students are asked to recognize differences (pluralism), or to notice the types of differences in society (including beliefs), and how to demonstrate respect. These are important building blocks for engaging in a pluralistic society, where differences inevitably abound and where showing respect notwithstanding those differences is key to allowing people to comfortably express those differences using their own thoughts and words.
Incorporate primary source documents
In the standards for these younger grades, there are no direct references to founding documents or prompts to use them in any way. To build familiarity with these documents, standards might be adjusted so younger students can be exposed to documents like the First Amendment or Bill of Rights generally in a more direct and meaningful way.
Standards in grades 3-6 progress from simply recognizing differences to applied skills and a preliminary understanding of American documents.
Skills for civic discourse
Standards for these grades include clear application and practice of freedom of speech. Skills include practicing dialogue, exploring different viewpoints on a variety of different topics, and learning about various forms of expression (art, architecture, stories, customs, etc.).
Incorporate primary source documents
Students in this age group gain an understanding of how speech and expression gets shared or disseminated. These standards also prompt more explicit instruction about freedom of speech as protected in the United States government’s founding documents. Interestingly, in these grades there are still far fewer standards, objectives or indicators directly connected to founding documents than there are standards related to skills applying freedom of speech.
In general, Utah’s elementary K-6 Social Studies standards offer a substantive approach to helping students navigate a pluralistic society and the ability to consider different viewpoints. However, a more robust approach would include introductions to America’s foundational documents like the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights or the concept of freedom of speech.
(Note: What’s a “standard”? It is a broad statement of what students are expected to understand and/or know how to do within a certain discipline.
What’s an “objective”? An objective is a more focused description of what students need to know and/or be able to do within a given standard.
What’s an “indicator”? These are measurable and observable student actions that enable teachers to judge whether a student has mastered a particular objective.)
Utah Core Standards, Objectives and Indicators referenced:
Kindergarten (Self, Family, and Classroom):
Standard 1: Students will recognize and describe how individuals and families are both similar and different.
Objective 1: Identify how individuals are similar and different
(a): describe and compare characteristics of self and others (e.g. differences in gender, height, language, beliefs and color of skin, eyes, hair).
(c): respect for each individual
First Grade (Self, School, and Neighborhood):
Standard 1: Students will recognize and describe how schools and neighborhoods are both similar and different.
Objective 1: Recognize and describe examples of difference within school and neighborhood.
(a): Recognize differences within their school and neighborhood.
(c): Recognize and demonstrate respect for the difference within one’s community (e.g. play, associations, activities, friendships
Standard 2: Students will recognize their roles and responsibilities as citizens in the school and in the neighborhood.
Objective 1: Describe and demonstrate appropriate social skills necessary for working in a group.
(a) Describe behaviors that contribute to cooperation within groups at school and in a neighborhood.
(d) Identify and express feelings in appropriate ways.
Objective 2: Identify and list responsibilities in the school and in the neighborhood.
(c) Demonstrate respect for others in the neighborhood (e.g., the “Golden Rule”—elements include fair play, respect for rights and opinions of others, and respect for rules.)
(d) Participate in responsible activities that contribute to the school and neighborhood (e.g., follow teacher directions, put belongings away, participate in discussions, take turns, listen to others, share ideas, clean up litter, report vandalism, give service).
Second Grade (Self, School, and Community):
Standard 3: Students will understand the principles of civic responsibility in classroom, community, and country.
Objective 3: Apply principles of civic responsibility
(a): Engage in meaningful dialogue about the community and current events within the classroom, school, and local community.
(b): Identify and consider the diverse viewpoints of the people who comprise a community.
(c): Demonstrate respect for the opinions, backgrounds, and cultures of others.
Standard 1: Students will understand the relationship between the physical geography in Utah and human life.
Objective 3: Analyze how human actions modify the physical environment.
(b): Explain viewpoints regarding environmental issues (e.g. species protection, land use, pollution controls, mass transit, water rights, and trust lands).
Standard 2: Students will understand how Utah’s history has been shaped by many diverse people, events, and ideas.
Objective 1: Describe the historical and current impact of various cultural groups on Utah.
(b): Explore points of view about life in Utah from a variety of cultural groups using primary source documents.
Standard 2: Students will understand the chronology and significance of key events leading to self-government.
Objective 1: Describe how the movement toward revolution culminated in a Declaration of Independence.
(b): Analyze arguments both for and against declaring independence using primary sources from Loyalist and patriot perspectives.
Standard 3: Students will understand the rights and responsibility guaranteed in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Objective 2: Assess how the US Constitution has been amended and interpreted over time, and the impact these amendments have had on the rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United States.
(c): Analyze the impact of the Constitution on their lives today (e.g. freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition).
Standard 5: Students will address the causes, consequences and implications of the emergence of the United States as a world power.
Objective 3: Evaluate the role of the United States as a world power.
(c): Assess differing points of view on the role of the US as a world power (e.g. influencing the spread of democracy, supporting the rule of law, advocating human rights, promoting environmental stewardship).
Standard 1: Students will understand how ancient civilizations developed and how they contributed to the current state of the world.
Objective 2: Evaluate how religion has played a central role in human history from ancient times to today.
(a): Explore the importance of religion in the cultural expression of ancient civilizations (e.g. customs, artistic expression, creation stories, architecture of sacred spaces).
Objective 4: Analyze how the earliest civilizations created technologies and systems to meet community and personal needs.
(c): Identify cultural expressions that reflect these systems (e.g. architecture, artistic expression, medicine, philosophy, drama, literature).
Standard 2: Students will understand the transformation of cultures during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and the impact of this transformation on modern times.
Objective 2: Explore the importance of religion in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and its relevance to modern times.
(a): Explain the influence of religion on cultural expression (e.g. the arts, architecture, government, education, family structure).
Objective 4: Explain the importance of the Renaissance as a rebirth of cultural and intellectual pursuits.
(a): Investigate how technological and scientific developments of the time promoted literacy and the exchange of ideas that continue to this day (e.g. moveable type, telescope, microscope).
The year 2021 has started fast and furious in the political space. Rioting at the U.S. Capitol and the banning of our president from certain big tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter have continued the national discussion about speech and ideas.
Ensuring that Utah civics education is adequate will take a statewide commitment from more than just the Legislature (and it’s usually better when it comes from more local decisionmakers), and it will demand that we avoid simplistic solutions about teachers or schools simply needing to “do better.”
It is our republic – if we can keep it.