The Legal Nexus

A blog of the Maricopa County Bar Association

For the Love of Country – Retired Justice O’Connor Pitches iCivics

O’Connor asks MCBA members to spread the word on iCivics project

Ret. Justice Sandra Day O' Connor spoke to students at Desert Foothills Junior High School in Phoenix last week about the importance of civics education.

When retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor attended school in the 1930s and 40s, civics classes were an integral part of students’ education. Today, due to school budget cuts and an emphasis on raising math and science scores, many civics classes have been cut or have had little impact with students. To the 81-year-old former Arizona senator, assistant attorney general and judge, that is devastating news.

In an effort to revitalize an interest in and understanding of civics among young people, O’Connor and a small team comprising Abby Taylor, who is the iCivics Executive Director and served a fellowship for O’Connor while studying at Georgetown University Law School, and Jeff Curley, also a graduate of Georgetown in education and communications, launched a web-based education project in 2009 called iCivics.

The project, which was created through a non-profit organization, uses online games and activities to teach students an array of civics-based lessons, including on the three branches of government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, citizenship and participation, and separation of powers. Using the program, students can run their own law firms, be president for a day, act as an attorney arguing a real Supreme Court case, learn how immigrants become American citizens, and be a Supreme Court justice.

A screenshot of the iCivics homepage shows a myriad of colors and graphics to make students' learning of civics fun and entertaining. - photo provided iCivics.

Students can also play fun games that allow them to campaign for an issue of their choice, choose questions for politicians to debate and work as a legislator trying to meet the needs of constituents.

O’Connor, who has been busy promoting the iCivics program to schools and at events across the country since 2009, said she is shocked and discouraged at students’ lack of knowledge of basic U.S. government. “Our young people know virtually nothing. They’re coming out of high school at 18 and they’re eligible to vote yet don’t register or don’t know how to vote,” O’Connor said.

A report released May 4 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects – including math, science, reading and history – over time, shows that while fourth graders’ knowledge and skills in civics have increased and eighth grade scores remain unchanged, those of 12th-grade students have declined with just one quarter of high-school seniors deemed “proficient.” The report, called the Civics 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 4, 8, and 12, is known as The Nation’s Report Card.

The 2010 test assessed 26,600 students in a sample that was designed to be representative of the entire U.S. student population by socioeconomic status, race,  parents’ education, language barriers and disabilities.

Jeff Curley, deputy director of iCivics, said O’Connor has been tireless in her efforts to help students learn more about civics. As a result of her work, people are responding to the challenge.

Last year the Florida Legislature enacted the Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education law.  The law requires that 7th graders complete a civics course and 8th graders pass a civics test to be promoted to high school. Additionally, civics-related content must be taught on all grade levels.

O’Connor said that while that’s a great start, she would like to see Arizona schools also make strides in the area of civics, starting with implementing the iCivics program in schools. “It’s my hope that my home state of Arizona will help get it (iCivics) in use,” she said.

O’Connor also called upon attorneys and others in the legal field to help get iCivics into the schools. “Most lawyers are willing to help students to be good citizens…It would be wonderful if members of the Maricopa County Bar would help us by contacting schools. It’s free, costs the school nothing, and it is very teacher friendly. It would be a great service to get the county bar to contact high schools and middle schools,” she said.

May 11, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment