Are Utah social studies standards doing their job?

Teaching freedom of the press and media literacy in grades K-6

Written by Christine Cooke

November 5, 2020

This is part 3 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 called, there are no separate civics education standards in grades K-6.

“The only security of all is in a free press,” Thomas Jefferson said to the Marquis de Lafayette in 1823.

Freedom of the press is a deeply important right to Americans. It is connected to freedom of thought and speech. It is supposed to be a crucial check on the government, which is intended to be of, by and for the people, but which is susceptible to falling short of that. The press – or “media” – is also often at the center of cultural controversies. Equipping students to understand the skills and rights associated with this freedom is key for the next generation to promulgate the republic.

Because our Founders intended for our education system to do just that (continue the republic), it’s vital that our state standards support that goal today by ensuring our standards and curriculum teach them these principles.

The Utah State Board of Education is currently reviewing the Utah state social studies standards for elementary school grades (kindergarten through sixth grade). 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 third review, we are specifically looking at media literacy and freedom of the press.

To help assess how well the current standards help students fulfill their duties in civil society and government with regard to freedom of the press and media literacy, we have decided to look for two main factors: (1) media literacy (vetting sources, media bias, critical thinking skills, etc.) and (2) the basic concept of the freedom of the press.

Grades K-2

In grades K-2, standards, objectives and indicators do not directly reference freedom of the press or discuss media literacy.

Media literacy

No standards in these grades discuss the media.

Basic concept of the freedom of the press

There are no standards, objectives or indicators that explicitly discuss the concept of freedom of the press. One standard in the second grade includes an indicator that says, “Explain the benefits of being a U.S. citizen (e.g., responsibilities, freedoms, opportunities, and the importance of voting in free elections),” which may imply that a teacher could cover the freedom of the press.

Grades 3-6

By grades 3-6, standards, objectives and indicators do not directly address media literacy. They reference the freedom of the press by name only once.

Media literacy

The standards in these grades do not discuss media or how to navigate the many types of media students come into contact with. Standards in these grades do, however, discuss “writing,” “language” “moveable type” and “exchange of ideas” in general ways. Students in these grades are certainly in contact with many forms of media, and our standards ought to prepare them for what they will encounter.

Basic concept of the freedom of the press

In fourth grade, the standards prompt students to “identify rights of a citizen (e.g. voting, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion).” Freedom of the press is not mentioned in the list but is presumably implied.

By fifth grade, some indicators ask students to “explain the significance of the Bill of Rights” and to “analyze the impact of the Constitution on their lives today” and lists as an example the freedom of the press.

Freedom of the press is one of our first freedoms. But except for one standard in fifth grade, freedom of the press is mostly absent from the Utah Core standards in grades K-6.

Conclusion

In general, Utah’s K-6 social studies standards do not offer any direct references to media literacy. Instead, some objectives and indicators discuss ideas that relate tangentially to these topics. In the later elementary grades some standards discuss the benefits of citizenship and the ideas within the Bill of Rights, which leaves the possibility of learning about freedom of the press. In general, the standards in these grades should offer a far more robust preparation for students to understand the power of the media, skills for navigating the types of media available, and knowledge about the freedom of the press.

(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:

Source: Utah Core Standards, Utah State Board of Education

Second Grade:

Standard 2: Students will recognize and practice civic responsibility in the community, state and nation.

Objective 1: Examine the civic responsibility and demonstrate good citizenship.

Indicators:

(b): Explain the benefits of being a U.S. citizen (e.g. responsibilities, freedoms, opportunities, and the importance of voting in free elections.)

Third Grade:

Standard 2: Students will understand cultural factors that shape a community.

Objective 1: Evaluate key factors that determine how a community develops.

Indicators:

(a): Identify the elements of culture (e.g. language, religion, customs, artistic expression, systems of exchange).

Fourth Grade:

Standard 3: Students will understand the roles of civic life, politics, and government in the lives of Utah citizens.

Objective 1: Describe the responsibilities and rights of individuals in a representative government as well as in the school and community.

Indicators:

(a): Identify rights of a citizen (e.g. voting, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion).

Fifth Grade:

Standard 3: Students will understand the rights and responsibilities 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.

Indicators:

(a): Explain the significant of the Bill of Rights.

(c): Analyze the impact of the Constitution on their lives today (e.g. freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.

Standard 4: Students will understand that the 19th century was a time of incredible change for the United States, including geographic expansion, constitutional crisis, and economic growth. Objective 3: Evaluate the course of events of the Civil War and its impact both immediate and long-term.

Indicators:

(a): Identify the key ideas, events and leaders of the Civil War using primary sources (e.g. Gettysburg Address, Emancipation Proclamation, news accounts, photographic records, and diaries.) 

Sixth Grade:

Standard 1: Students will understand how ancient civilizations developed and how they contributed to the current state of the world. 

Objective 4: Analyze how the earliest civilizations created technologies and systems to meet community and personal needs.

Indicators:

(b): Examine the evolution and importance of writing.

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 4: Explain the importance of the Renaissance as a rebirth of cultural and intellectual pursuits.

Indicators:

(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).

(b): Identify leading Renaissance artists and thinkers and their contributions to visual arts, writing, music, and architecture (e.g. Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Palestrina, Shakespeare, Tallis).

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