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 . . .

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Matt Ricci

    The “American kids are stupid” lament has been around since I was an American kid, but I must admit it is astonishing kids do so poorly on that sample test provided. The answers are right after the questions.

  2. Melissa L. Greipp

    Matt, thanks for your comment. The sample civics test is a prep test for people studying to become naturalized American citizens, so the answers follow the questions.

  3. Nick Zales

    Civics, particularly the law and our court system, is taught very poorly in this country. There is a reason for that. The elite do not want American citizens to understand how their own government works. They have no interest in the rule of law. They believe they are a special, privileged group to which the law does not apply. The proof is in the pudding.

    Since the pardon of Richard Nixon by Gerald Ford, we have seen a marked increase in law-breaking by our leaders. To me, the last honest president was Jimmy Carter. All the rest since then have engaged in illegal conduct that was all swept under the rug or perverted for political purposes. More recently, bankers have benefited from the concept of “too big to fail, too big to prosecute.” The telecommunications companies likewise benefited from this concept.

  4. Tom Kamenick

    I teach an undergrad law survey course at Wisconsin Lutheran College. I send those students over to iCivics to poke around and ask them to play a game or two. Almost without fail, they come back telling me about how much they learned, even though these games are designed for middle school students.

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