Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sandra Day O'Connor and Web-Based Civics Lesson

With the stunning news of the recent Supreme Court ruling on Guantanamo (and I am reading The Nine by Jeffrey Tobin about the previous Supreme Court, great reading), comes this NY Times article about former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her efforts to keep civics lessons part of the public education system. From the article:

"Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, began her remarks at the Games for Change conference in New York by saying aloud what the few hundred people in the audience were already thinking.

“If someone had told me when I retired from the Supreme Court about a couple of years ago that I would be speaking at a conference about digital games, I would have been very skeptical, maybe thinking you had one drink too many,” she said to laughter Wednesday in an auditorium downtown at Parsons the New School for Design."

What is she helping to develop?

"In cooperation with Georgetown University Law Center and Arizona State University, Justice O’Connor is helping develop a Web site and interactive civics curriculum for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students called Our Courts (www.ourcourts.org). The initial major elements of the site are scheduled to become available this fall."

"With Our Courts she hopes to foster a deeper understanding of American government among schoolchildren. The site will have two parts, an explicitly educational component for use in schools and a more entertainment-oriented module that will more closely resemble games. As one would expect from such a significant jurist, she made a neat case.

“In recent years I have become increasingly concerned about vitriolic attacks by some members of Congress and some members of state legislatures and various private interest groups on judges,” she said in her speech. “We hear a great deal about judges who are activists, godless secular humanists trying to impose their will on the rest of us. I always thought an activist judge was one who got up in the morning and went to work.”

She and Justice Breyer had attended a previous conference in 2006 on the state of the judiciary in the U.S. Her thoughts:

“One unintended effect of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is intended to help fund teaching of science and math to young people, is that it has effectively squeezed out civics education because there is no testing for that anymore and no funding for that,” she said. “And at least half of the states no longer make the teaching of civics and government a requirement for high school graduation. This leaves a huge gap, and we can’t forget that the primary purpose of public schools in America has always been to help produce citizens who have the knowledge and the skills and the values to sustain our republic as a nation, our democratic form of government.” (Italics mine because I totally agree.)

The first lesson will take up something dear to teens' hearts - what they can wear to school.

"One of the first interactive exercises in the Our Courts program, she said, would take up First Amendment issues involving the ability of public schools to censor students’ speech, as in student newspapers or on T-shirts."

I was deeply saddened when she left the Court (to care for her ailing husband) because she was a leader on the Court. I'm glad she's still working hard to promote knowledge and understanding of our judicial system.


Dorothy Neville said...

A semester of American Government is required for graduation in Seattle. Some schools offer an AP version.

Pop quiz. In which Seattle High School does the required American Government course have the following description:

"Included in American Government is a focus on the issues of race that affect all aspects of American political life. The course will examine the history of western racial ideas as a preface to examining whiteness and privilege and will then study new ideas of antiracism programs and methods for young people and others. The course features an activist approach in which students will both read and critically assess news, academic and sociological texts and other information, as well as do interviews, performance and social action."

anonymous said...

OK, I'll bite, which one?

Is this just an excerpt from a longer description, or is this the entire description? If it is an excerpt, I would like to see the entire description. If it is the entire description, it is unbelievable that a school could use this as a semester of US GOV.

Dorothy Neville said...

It's an excerpt. For what school? Well, here's a hint, adhoc. While studying "western racial ideas" they are probably also exploring their right to listen to electrosexual music.