Charter schools, Domestic, Elementary / Primary / Junior, Feature, High school / Secondary 2, Private education, Public education, Publishers, Required, Students, Technology - Written by on Monday, September 26, 2011 7:00 - 0 Comments

Ret. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics Initiative

O´Connor serves up justice, civics and video games

By Paul Glader

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is trying “20th Century” methods of wrangling and enticing America´s youth  to learn and love Civics.

Her initiative, iCivics, provides interactive, online games for students to use on their own or in a class setting. She pooled a team of experts at Georgetown Law School and Arizona State University to develop the site for middle school and high school students.

Games on iCivics include: “Executive Command”, “Lawcraft”, “Do I have A Right.” In Lawcraft, for example, students pretend to be legislators who respond to citizens’ concerns and propose laws that must gain support from members of both political parties and both houses of Congress.

“Our goal is to offer teachers and students civics learning portals including online games, social networking, and other pathways to civic participation,” she writes in her essay The Democratic Purpose of Education that is part of a new book called “Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education,” edited by David Feith, a young editorial writer and OpEd editor at The Wall Street Journal.

In the essay, O’Connor provides – surprise, surprise – a very well-researched opinion on the state and history of Civic education. She dips back into history, quoting Thomas Jefferson, Noah Webster and Benjamin Rush on the topic. And she proves she has thoroughly studied the topic, rattling off myriad interesting statistics about the state of Civic Education:

  • A 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children spend 40 hours per week using media, including computers, television, video games, and music. That’s more time than they spend with parents. “If students thought about government and civic education for just a small portion of that time, it would be a substantial step in the right direction,” O’Connor writes. 
  •  ”Until the 1960s, three courses in civics and government were common in American High Schools.” 
  •  ”Today, forty state constitutions mention the importance of students’ civic literacy and thirteen cite civic education as the primary purpose of schools. But civic education has declined in the past decades. Many factors led to this downturn. First, in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, the public increasingly lost faith in traditional government institutions and leaders.” 
  • The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 1996 that more than 50 percent of students in history and world civilization classes had teachers who neither majored nor minored in history. The results of this lack of training are evident. According to the Center for Civic Education, more than 50 percent of high school government teachers could not adequately explain key concepts such as popular sovereignty, habeas corpus, judicial review, federalism and checks and balances.
  • The No Child Left Behind law and other recent educational initiatives have unintentionally contributed to the problem by assessing schools mainly according to students’ performance in reading, math and science. This approach pressures teachers to focus on subjects that are tested at the expense of others, such as civics and history. 
  • Although approximately 80% of high school students take at least one semester of American government, only 50% of students have a senior-year course on the subject and of the remaining 50%, most take their last American government course in ninth grade, if at all.
  • More than 2/3 of students scored below proficiency on the nationwide civics assessment administered by the federal government. 
Meanwhile, in addition to building her case for civics education, O’Connor is also trying to market the iCivics site. She recently launched a contest for middle school students with the Verizon Foundation (on Constitution Day in Philadelphia) that involve playing games on the iCivics site. It ends Nov. 30. www.iCivics.org/Impact-Challenge-2011 The winning class receives a VGo Telepresence Robot for their class, which she says will enable them to take virtual field trips to museums and educational institutions. O’Connor will also make a virtual visit to the winning class.
We see a gathering chorus of celebrities and notables who worry about the state of Civics education in America. Actor Richard Dreyfuss, for example, has the www.thedreyfussinitiative.org, which has similar goals.
via Flickr under Creative Commons
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