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This is Seth Schiesel’s article in the NY Times:
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.
Yet there she was, a notable figure in modern history, at once engaging and imposing as she explained why she had embraced the Internet and interactive digital media as an essential tool for preserving American democracy. 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.
Since retiring from the bench in 2006, Justice O’Connor, 78, has spoken forcefully and often about the dangers posed by efforts to politicize the judiciary. Her thoughts are well known to legal scholars. 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 said she embarked on this campaign after a conference she and Justice Stephen G. Breyer convened in 2006 on the state of the judiciary.
“The overwhelming consensus coming out of that conference was that public education is the only long-term solution to preserving an independent judiciary and, more importantly, to preserving a robust constitutional democracy,” she said. “The better educated our citizens are, the better equipped they will be to preserve the system of government we have. And we have to start with the education of our nation’s young people. Knowledge about our government is not handed down through the gene pool. Every generation has to learn it, and we have some work to do.”
Justice O’Connor said that most citizens know very little about their government. “Two-thirds of Americans know at least one of the judges on the Fox TV show ‘American Idol,’ but less than 1 in 10 can name the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court,” she said.
And for that she did not lay responsibility solely at the feet of popular culture.
“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.”
Enter the Internet. Justice O’Connor said she didn’t play games and was hardly a computer expert. But she added that she had seen in her children and especially her grandchildren how involving interactive media can be and noted that interactive education can in some ways be more effective than traditional methods.
“We’ll have them arguing real issues, real legal issues, against the computer and against each other,” she said. 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 believe that when we learn something, a principle or concept, by doing, by having it happen to us, which you can do by that medium of a computer, and you exercise it and you make an argument and you learn, ‘Oh yes, that’s an argument that prevails,’ you learn by doing.”
That’s an argument even the most hardened game geek would approve.
source: Seth Schiesel wrote this article; NYTimes on 6/9/08 www.nytimes.com
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