O’Connor on Civic Education in the Digital Age

April 24th, 2014

Unlike some other retired-Justice who shall not be mentioned, Justice O’Connor has spent (most of) her time since stepping down on a worthwhile cause–civic education. She has tirelessly devoted herself, through her organization iCivics, to teaching our next generation about our Constitution, our system of government, and the rule of law. The Harlan Institute has partnered with iCivics, and created several games to teach students about Supreme Court cases.

Justice O’Connor recently penned an op-ed in the WSJ discussing how the new SAT will now ask students to understand, and explain our basic founding documents.

Millions of students taking the SAT will now encounter texts like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as the writings of individuals from James Madison to Martin Luther King Jr. But old test-prep methods like flashcards and rote memorization will not be sufficient. Students will need more sophisticated tools to help them understand the material and engage with it. Digital technology will be essential to achieving that goal.

For today’s students, learning can happen anytime, anywhere. Digital resources are growing more intuitive, more personalized and more affordable. With real-time assessments, teachers can identify how each student learns, where improvement is needed, and which learning strategies work best. New technologies allow students to learn from materials tailored to their progress, tied to clear academic standards and accompanied by constant, actionable feedback.

Blended learning—combining digital tools with supervised instruction—incorporates the best of what teachers do with the support of instructional technologies that help strengthen the time that teachers spend with their students. This kind of blended learning is particularly effective for tackling difficult subject matter.

Progress has always been about a tension between the old and the new. The rapidly changing world has made the age-old skills of deep reading and command of historical documents more important than ever. And the very accelerant of these changes—technology—provides the opportunity to more effectively teach and learn those timeless disciplines.

These lessons are apt not only for primary education, but law school as well.