A year ago, the ABA featured an article titled “Flunking Civics: Why America’s Kids Know So Little.”
The article starts out with some alarming results from a survey that assessed the teaching of civics across the country:
Only one state deserved a rating of A when it came to teaching its students American history, according to a recent study. Most states fall in the category of ‘mediocre to awful.’
The study ranked history standards in 49 states and the District of Columbia (Rhode Island has no mandatory history standards, only suggested guidelines) for ‘content and rigor’ and ‘clarity and specificity’ on a scale of A to F. Only South Carolina got straight A’s.
Nine states’ standards earned a grade of A- or B. But a majority of states—28 in all—had standards ratings of D or F, the study found.
To test your knowledge of civics, take this sample practice civics test.
So, in light of these dismal survey results, I was heartened to see a clip on television recently promoting iCivics, a program begun by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and which is mentioned in the ABA Journal article. I decided to check out the website.
The ABA article describes Justice O’Connor’s reasons for starting iCivics:
O’Connor says she first began to realize how little people know about the way government works during her years as a judge, when she became increasingly alarmed by the efforts of lawmakers and others to politicize the judiciary and ‘punish’ judges for their decisions.
That led her—along with Justice Stephen G. Breyer—to convene a conference on the state of the judiciary in 2006 to try to get to the root of the problem. The overwhelming consensus of the attendees was that public education is the key to preserving the independence of the judiciary and sustaining our constitutional democracy.
O’Connor thinks the evidence is pretty convincing. ‘There are all kinds of polls out there showing that barely one out of three Americans can name the three branches of government, let alone describe what they do,’ she says.
I spent a few minutes playing the iCivics games and activities online. The games and activities are free, and the website is easy to navigate with good graphics and directions. Topics include citizenship and participation, separation of powers, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the judicial branch, the executive branch, the legislative branch, and budgeting. The site also includes curriculum units for teachers. According to the site, it is “the nation’s most comprehensive, standards-aligned civics curriculum that is available freely on the Web.”
State chairs include Chief Justice Abrahamson and Justice Bradley of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The website also names state coordinators with contact information. This article, also from the ABA, provides additional information on various state initiatives to teach civics.
Happy gaming . . .
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