Since leaving the U.S. Supreme Court, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has taken up the cause of promoting civics education. (In fact, so has former Justice David Souter.)
Yesterday, she stepped onto the public stage again to champion the subject, and leveled criticism at the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which she argues shares some of the blame for the weak knowledge of civics among young people, according to an Associated Press story.
“Barely one-third of Americans can even name the three branches of government, much less say what they do,” the AP quotes O’Connor as saying at a conference sponsored by Games for Change, a project that aims to promote computer and video games for social change. “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.”
O’Connor argued that an “unintended consequence” of No Child Left Behind is that many schools have neglected civics education because of the law’s intensive focus on improving student achievement in math and reading (and science, she said, though while the law requires science testing, those results do not count for purposes of the law’s accountability measures).
She had more to say on No Child Left Behind and civics education (as well as Elana Kagan and the Supreme Court) during a follow-up interview for ABC News’ Good Morning America.
“The No Child Left Behind program was an incentive to the schools to get their kids up to snuff on math and science and reading,” she said, according to a transcript of the interview, but not for civics, American history, or many other subjects. “And the result was a number of schools stopped teaching, or giving scores on, civics and government and history.”
Of course, I should note that O’Connor certainly is not the first, and won’t be the last, person to suggest the No Child Left Behind Act has narrowed the curriculum.
The former justice also used both her speech yesterday and the ABC interview as occasions to promote some new video games available for free on the iCivics website that are designed for middle school students.
Games on the iCivics website include:
• Do I Have a Right?, in which the player runs a firm specializing in constitutional law;
• Executive Command, which offers a chance to play president;
• Supreme Decision, about the high court,
• Branches of Power, which gives the player control of all three branches of government; and
• LawCraft, in which the player is a member of Congress.
The iCivics program is based at Georgetown University Law School, the AP story says. O’Connor is the project’s founder and leads the board of the nonprofit iCivics Inc.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.