The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) is currently accepting public comment on its revised Social Studies learning standards as part of a routine process required by state law.
A public hearing will also be held on October 30 at 3pm at the Burton Cross Office Building — located at 111 Sewall Street in Augusta — in Room 600. The hearing can also be accessed via Zoom here.
Overview of the Changes
One of the major changes visible throughout the revised standards is a systematic incorporation of content related to the Wabanaki Nations into nearly all of the learning objectives outlined by the MDOE.
In addition to this, a greater emphasis is continually placed on themes such as discrimination, oppression, and marginalization at all age and grade levels.
Structurally speaking, the standards have also been made noticeably more in-depth, meaning that the MDOE is providing more extensive details concerning their expectations for the content being taught to Maine’s students.
In-Depth Look at the Changes
Below is a more in-depth look at the major changes proposed by the MDOE for each of the revised standard’s major sections.
Introduction to the Standards
The MDOE replaced the introduction to the social studies standards in its entirety in the proposed update.
Originally the introduction read:
The great architects of American public education, such as Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, and John Dewey, believed that every student must be well versed in our nation’s history, the principles and practices which support and sustain citizenship, and the institutions that define our government. Understandings of commerce and geography were critical to their thinking as well. In essence, Jefferson, Mann, and Dewey viewed the study of social studies as critical to the mission of public schools. According to the National Council for the Social Studies: advocates of citizenship education cross the political spectrum, but they are bound by a common belief that our democratic republic will not sustain unless students are aware of their changing cultural and physical environments; know the past; read, write, and think deeply; and act in ways that promote the common good. (C3 Framework for Social Studies, 2013).
A strong Social Studies education depends upon a clear understanding of its interrelated disciplines and inclusion of Maine’s Guiding Principles. Without knowledge of the geography and economics of earlier times, history offers only lists of people, events, and dates. Without knowledge of history, the institutions of American government and the dynamics of today’s global economy are difficult to understand. Although social studies curricula vary in their breadth and depth, the Social Studies Standards reflect a focus on government, history, geography, personal finance and economics as the pillars of the content, with other disciplines within the social sciences deemed important, but not essential.
The revised standards now emphasize decidedly different aspects of — and goals for — students’ social studies education, reading:
The primary purpose of social studies is to enable and empower students to become concerned, informed, literate, locally minded, and global citizens. In an evolving world, citizenship encompasses local, state, tribal, national, global, and digital connections. Maine social studies graduates should engage in the democratic processes and important institutions of their community. Social studies encourage active citizenship for social good, especially in safeguarding against discrimination, oppression, and genocide. Informed global citizens rely upon their knowledge of diverse perspectives and knowledge of cultures. As we change, technology changes, and our understanding of the world changes, we must regularly reexamine and refresh the ways that we learn about our world. These standards were developed to include experiences of all Mainers, Americans, and citizens of the world. Studies emphasizing African American and Wabanaki experience are integrated throughout the standards with authentic voices to capture the diverse and complex history of the place that is now called Maine.
The Maine Social Studies Standards are an interdisciplinary framework of the four strands of Civics & Government, Economics & Personal Finance, Geography, and History. The rich study of the human experience requires an understanding of the complex interplay of these disciplines. The Maine Social Studies Standards were created through a collaborative effort between educators, stakeholders, advisors from the Wabanaki Nations, African Americans throughout the state, and The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. The goal of the standards is to produce Maine graduates who are civically engaged, socially responsible, culturally aware, and financially literate.
The revised standards replace the key ideas of “Growth Mindset” and “Understanding” with “Civil Discourse,” leaving the other key ideas untouched.
The MDOE’s description of “Civil Discourse” reads, in part:
Engaging in civil discourse promotes honesty, mutual respect, cooperation, and attentiveness to multiple perspectives. To develop an environment that supports civil discourse we should ask students to be brave enough to ask difficult questions, hear views they may not agree with, and disagree without defensiveness, while questioning ideas and policies, but never an individual’s humanity. Principles such as equality, freedom, liberty, respect for individual rights, and deliberation apply to both official institutions and informal interactions among citizens.
Major Enduring Themes
The language of the standard’s “major enduring themes” have been updated by the MDOE rather substantially.
“Freedom and justice” was changed to “freedom and oppression,” and “conflict and compromise” was updated to “conflict and cooperation.”
“Unity and diversity” was revised to “inclusion and exclusion.”
“Supply and demand” was updated to “economic models.”
The revision also added several new themes: “justice and exploitation,” “spatial and geographical awareness,” “connection and culture,” and “time and place.”
The standards also now include a section of “conceptual understandings” that are intended to allow “students to organize their own way of structuring their understandings across interests and academic disciplines.”
Some of the examples of conceptual understandings listed in the standards include:
- “A society’s wants and needs drive supply and demand.”
- “Actions and policies can have significant consequences.”
- “Rights enjoyed by individuals are inconsistent across groups.”
- “Political systems empower some, while oppressing and exploiting others.”
- “Time, place, culture, and experience influence perception. In addition, perception influences time, place, culture and experience.”
- “Similarities and differences among groups enrich our society and impact relationships among individuals and groups. (acceptance/existence)”
Eras of History
While the revisions did not significantly change the eras of United States history that students are expected to learn, there were a few minor alterations.
Most notably, the standards now include a requirement for students to learn about the time in American history “prior to contact,” elaborated upon as “before Europeans arrived in North America, Indigenous groups developed into distinct and complex societies in response to the unique environments they inhabited.”
Language was also updated throughout this section, “Native” and “Native American” now read “Indigenous” and “Indigenous Peoples.”
The eras of world history were changed somewhat more significantly.
The time between 1450 and 1750 was relabeled from “political, social, economic and global interactions led to revolutions” to “land-based empires and transoceanic interconnections.”
1750 to 1900 was changed from “industrialization and global integration” to “revolutions and consequences or industrialization.”
Lastly, from 1900 to present was updated from “accelerating global change and realignments” to “global conflict, cold war, decolonization, and globalization.”
The revised standards also now include an entire section dedicated to “eras in Wabanakis studies history.”
Specific Content Standards By Grade Level
The vast majority of the MDOE’s social studies standards are comprised of specific content standards, divided up by age group and grade level. This is also the portion of the standards that received some of the most heavy-handed revisions by the MDOE.
Government and History
For Maine’s youngest — in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade — the MDOE is proposing to no longer direct teachers to ensure that their students “understand key ideas and
processes that characterize democratic government in the community and the United States.”
Instead, students will now “discuss,” “explain,” and then “compare” how “all people, not
just official leaders or famous people, play important roles in a community, including
promoting the common good.”
For students in grades 3-5, repetitive standards have been removed such that educators are now given specific learning objectives for their students that appear to build upon one another year after year.
- 3rd graders are now expected to be able to “identify the organization of the governments, including the legislative, executive, and judicial branch at the local, Maine, and Wabanaki Nations.”
- 4th graders are intended to be taught to “illustrate examples of civic ideals and constitutional principles to include the rule of law, legitimate power, sovereignty, and the common good.”
- 5th graders are to “analyze documents that describe the structures and processes of government such as the Constitution of the United States and subsequent amendments, as well as other foundational documents and primary sources, including treaties involving the Wabanaki Nations.”
Added to the expectations for students in grades 6-8 were:
- “Explore how government structures can result in majority rule that can protect minority rights, but also can result in discrimination, oppression, and genocide in marginalized groups”
- “Explain how tribal sovereignty established a unique relationship between Wabanaki Nations and the United States Government”
- “Utilizing civil discourse when making decisions in the classroom, school, civil society, and local, state, and national government in terms of how civic purposes are intended”
The new standards set the expectation that high school students will:
- “[Explain] how and why democratic institutions and interpretations of democratic civic ideals and constitutional principles change over time, by analyzing major laws or cases and the political experiences of African American and other marginalized groups in Maine, the United States, and the World”
- “Explore historical and contemporary examples of ways in which our government structures successfully resulted in majority rule with protection of majority rights and historical and contemporary examples of ways in which those structures failed, including instances of discrimination, oppression, and genocide in marginalized groups”
- “Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political intuitions”
Certain aspects of the old standards have now been removed from their former locations and given dedicated sections within the standards, allowing the MDOE to expound upon the details of their desired learning objectives.
Among the expanded sections are those directing students to:
- “Understand rights, duties, roles, and responsibilities of citizens in communities and governments including: local, Maine, the Wabanaki Nations, the United States, and the world, including those in African American and other marginalized groups”
- “Explore citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political assets and/or needs at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level”
Economics and Personal Finance
There are also a handful of subtle changes proposed to the standards relating to finances and the economy.
Primarily, language concerning the Wabanaki Nations is incorporated into nearly all aspects of the learning criteria.
Furthermore, particular learning objectives were expanded so as to allow the MDOE to provide a greater level of detail concerning their expectations for students in these areas, specifically with relation to “economic decision making” and “the role of markets, economic systems of Maine, Wabanaki Nations, the United States and the world.”
More in-depth standards were also drafted for high school students with respect to their ability to draw upon “concepts and processes in personal finance to understand issues of earning income, spending, saving, investing, managing credit, and managing risk.”
The geography objectives across all ages and grade levels were similarly changed in subtle ways, primarily by incorporating material related to the Wabanaki Nations.
Added to the geography objectives for middle school students was a requirement to explore “careers with geographic skills — including ones with Wabanaki, African American, and women geographers.”
Furthermore, understanding “place-based identities” was added to the learning expectations for high schoolers, as was a requirement to understand that “the changing perceptions of places and regions have significant economic, political, and cultural consequences in an increasingly globalized complicated world.”
In addition to adding language concerning the Wabanki Nations to the state’s history standards, the MDOE is also proposing to have 4th grade students “give real examples of historical aspects of inclusion and exclusion in the community” instead of “understand[ing] historical aspects of unity and diversity in the community.”
The MDOE is also proposing a requirement that students across all ages and grade levels “examine the causes and ramifications of discrimination, oppression, and genocide in the Holocaust and in the histories of the Wabanaki and African Americans and how they have influenced historical and current events, developments, and ideas.”