Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor says her current work to revitalize civic education across the nation is “the most important work I’ve ever done.” She said when she retired from the Supreme Court, she had a goal that was “high on my list to accomplish, and that is to restore civic education in our nation’s schools.” She said through research, she learned that the best way to reach young students today is through “embracing the digital age,” so she’s worked with an array of experts to develop a program called “iCivics” that teaches about American civics through video games.
“Yes, this Arizona cowgirl has actually gotten involved with video games, and it’s working,” she told the Andrus Center Conference on Women and Leadership. Millions of visitors have now gone to the iCivics website, and more than 65,000 teachers have created accounts. The program includes “some very exciting video games, curriculum units, lesson plans and online fora for student engagement.”
O’Connor recited troubling statistics about Americans’ lack of civic knowledge. “Civics scores among high school seniors have steadily declined since the year 2006,” she said. “Civics scores among middle school students have remained at the same low level since 1998, and on the last nationwide civics assessment test, two-thirds of the students who took the test scored below proficient. Now only about one-third of adult Americans can name the three branches of government. Think about that. That’s really pathetic. Let alone describe the roles in our system.”
She added, “Less than one-third of the 8th grade students can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and it’s right there in the name.” Laughter greeted that sharp comment. “Less than one-fifth of high school seniors can explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.”
O’Connor urged the audience to help raise the nation’s level of civic education. “Get busy,” she said. “Everyone in this room can play an important role in that effort.”