Journal of Educational Controversy


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Lack of Civic Knowledge

According to an Associated Press article of May 26th, Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argues that one of the unintended consequences of the No Child Left Behind initiative has been a decline in civic knowledge. With its emphasis and focus on test scores, especially reading and math, the controversial act has had the effect of narrowing the curriculum. O’Connor spoke at a conference where she was promoting a website designed for students and teachers that uses video games to stimulate the learning of civics. It is aimed at middle school students.

According to the AP report, O’Connor talked about the dismal state of student knowledge.

"Barely one-third of Americans can even name the three branches of government,much less say what they do," O'Connor said. "Less than one-fifth of high school seniors can explain how civic participation benefits our
government. Less than that can say what the Declaration of Independence is,and it's right there in the title. I'm worried."

The program is called iCivics. The website describes the project as follows:

iCivics is a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy. iCivics is the vision of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is concerned that students are not getting the information and tools they need for civic participation, and that civics teachers need better materials and support.

Here is a description of a game called Guardian of Law taken from the Serious Games Market Website that says its aim is to "help students learn by doing civics rather than learning about it."

Guardian of Law is also part of the suite of games developed for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's free, interactive, web-based program designed to teach civics and inspire students to be active participants in our democracy.

The player is a Guardian of Law, a legal professional, who must establish Rule of Law in a futuristic, multicultural society inhabited by humans, alien species, and intelligent robots.

Players explore SkyCity that uses the American legal system but has regions of lawlessness where specific civil rights are violated. The player meets people who have civil rights cases that must be resolved. After a player takes a case, the player finds case cards to support arguments. When the player has a sufficient number of case cards, the player goes to a courthouse to argue the case.

As the player wins cases, rule of law is established, and SkyCity changes to reflect the effects of the civil right on society. Players will also be given the opportunity to argue extreme cases, so they see the dynamics between law and society and see the impact on society that laws may have.

The purpose of Guardian of Law is to teach students, specifically middle school students, about American civics in a new and exciting way. Students will learn about legal concepts such as due process and equal protection as well as important case precedents such as Brown v. Board of Education. More importantly, students will apply their knowledge in a way that improves their argumentation skills, which will fundamentally improve both their traditional academic and 21st century skills. Students will also learn about civic engagement by exploring various civil rights topics within the game.

Over time, improvements in argumentation can be measured as the student takes cases and argues them in court. Having cases that develop particular issues allows the possibility of gauging student interest in specific civil rights topics and allows students to become expert in topics of personal interest.

Teachers can go to the website at: It has many free resources for teachers and video games for children.

We would love to hear from readers who are using this resource. What has been your experience with the material?

1 comment:

Lorraine Kasprisin said...

For an interesting review on the effectiveness of the video games on the iCivics website, check out the post on the ACLU of Washington blog, entitled, “Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Wants You to Play Video Games,” by Brian Alseth .

You can find it at: