Time Magazine Honors Sandra Day O’Connor as Pioneer on Supreme Court — and in Civics Education
Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice, believes that her most significant work began after she retired. Her efforts to teach civics to young people through the creation of iCivics earned her a place in Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people.
O’Connor stepped down from the bench in 2006 and established iCivics in 2009. iCivics is a collection of online role-playing games that provide free education on government, allowing students to experience the perspectives of the president, Supreme Court justices, and local county government leaders.
The aim was to make civic education engaging and relevant for young people. O’Connor understood that in order to captivate them, the learning process had to be enjoyable. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an iCivics board member, praised O’Connor for her vision and innovation.
During this academic year, nearly 5 million students have played the games, with almost 3 million engaging with the program in November alone. The election cycle has brought unparalleled traffic to iCivics, as it helps teachers and students understand the nuances of government in a nonpartisan manner.
The original intention was for the games to target middle-schoolers. However, the team at iCivics discovered that many high school teachers were also incorporating the program into their history and government classes. As a result, they began developing more extensive government content for older students.
Given the emphasis on local control in this year’s political climate, iCivics has updated its county government game to align with the current discussions. Students now take on the role of county executives, solving constituents’ problems while considering their tax base, maintaining approval ratings, and striving to win upcoming elections.
In addition to the games, iCivics provides teachers with downloadable curricula. Their lesson plans are downloaded a staggering 2 million times each year.
O’Connor’s motivation to create the game stemmed from concerns about the state of civics education in the United States. A national survey conducted in 2014 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center revealed that only one-third of Americans could identify all three branches of government, while another third failed to name any. Additionally, only 25% knew that a presidential veto required a two-thirds vote in Congress to override, and 20% wrongly believed that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision was sent back to Congress for reconsideration.
"I wanted to educate young people in America about their potential role within the government structure and how they can contribute to addressing and solving problems," O’Connor expressed in a tribute video for iCivics.