Civics Education in Alabama’s Public Schools
Having celebrated the 4th of July, a.k.a. Independence Day, a few days ago, I thought you might like a look at what our children are expected to learn about civics in our Alabama public schools.
I wrote about this a couple of years ago, but figured that since a new Social Studies course of study will be implemented in the coming school year (which starts for some in about four weeks), some of you might like to start from scratch.
Here is the full Social Studies Course of Study (COS), of which Civics education is a part. This COS was approved in 2010, but due to the implementation of the Math and English COS to align with Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS), Social Studies was delayed until 2014. A note on page ix indicates the COS was reviewed and updated in April 2013. (Here’s the full schedule of adoption of changing COS.)
Pages vii, viii, and ix list the persons involved in the development of the COS. It doesn’t say where these folks were born, but it does show they were all working in education in Alabama when they served on the committee. One parent served on the committee.
The State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted a list of approved textbooks for use with the Social Studies COS in January 2014, though not without a bit of controversy (Read this and this and this for more details.)
Remember that the COS sets a minimum standard, meaning local school districts are welcome to add to the minimum standards, but may not teach less than the minimum. From the COS:
Content standards and related content in this document are minimum and required (Code of Alabama, 1975, §16-35-4), fundamental and specific, but not exhaustive. In developing local curricula, school systems may include additional content standards to reflect local philosophies and add implementation guidelines, resources, and activities; which, by design, are not contained in this document. (page vi)
Here’s a look at how what gets taught in our classrooms and which textbooks get chosen are ultimately decided upon. (More on the Social Studies COS after the image…)
The Big Civics Picture
Civics, which includes government, is only one of four areas of emphasis in the Social Studies COS. Economics, geography, and history are the other areas.
Responsible citizenship is the overarching goal of the program, according to the COS (page 3). Here’s how the COS defines responsible citizenship:
Responsible citizens are informed and active, are cognizant of their roles in and connections with the world, and are capable of making competent decisions that benefit the local community, state, nation, and world.
Here’s what the COS says specifically about Civics:
The civics and government strand is addressed in each grade while in Grade 7 one-half year is devoted primarily to the civics strand and in Grade 12 the government strand is addressed in the required one-semester course, United States Government. Civics and government content is designed to enable students to become informed, responsible participants in political life and to function as competent citizens committed to the fundamental values and principles of the constitutional democracy that established the republic of the United States of America (page 1).
Students who display competent civics and government skills are able to:
• Define government and understand its historical foundations;
• Explain interrelationships of local, state, and federal governments;
• Understand basic values and principles of the American republic;
• Comprehend the relationship of the United States to the rest of the world; and
• Identify rights and responsibilities of citizenship, including the practice of responsible citizenship. (page 5)
Now It’s Time to Read for Yourself
The actual Social Studies COS begins on page 13 of the COS with Kindergarten. On each line of a standard is a box with four columns indicating which of the four strands (economics, geography, history, and/or civics and government) are covered by that standard. Any standard with an icon in the shape of Alabama next to it means it is a standard unique to Alabama.
The 7th grade Civics COS begins on page 41.
Appendix A contains COS for high school elective courses related to Social Studies.
Appendix B contains the ACT Course Standards for U.S. History.
Appendix C contains Literacy Standards tied to the CCRS.
Appendix D shows the current Alabama High School Graduation Requirements.
Appendix E contains “Guidelines and Suggestions for Local Time Requirements and Homework”.
Now it’s your turn. Read it.