Former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn, Jr. and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — two of the most revered and well-known public servants in America — are teaming up to push for better civics education in Ohio schools.
Glenn and O’Connor on Thursday unveiled iCivics Ohio, an online resource funded in large part by the Eichelberger Foundation of Dayton. The web-based, interactive citizenship curriculum is free for use by Ohio teachers and students and it offers games, lesson plans and activities that are tailored to Ohio’s social studies standards.
Ohio is the first state to tailor the popular iCivics digital learning program to its learning standards. O’Connor launched iCivics six years ago and it has reached 66,000 teachers, 7 million students and has had 27 million game plays.
“That’s pretty good for a civics program but it’s not enough,” O’Connor said via a video message on Thursday. “We have to all continue to work to make sure every young person in our country learns how to be an enlightened and engaged citizen, regardless of whether they become astronauts or Supreme Court justices or whatever.”
Glenn said he and his wife, Annie, learned about civics from their teacher at New Concord High School, who made the material “come alive.”
“That’s originally where I got my real interest in thinking that one of the greatest things we could do growing up would be to be active in the civics and political life and maybe even someday having the hope of running for high public office ourselves, or as it turned out, myself,” said Glenn.
Glenn knows a thing or two about public service and civics. He was a decorated combat pilot from World War II and the Korean War, is the last surviving member of NASA’s Mercury Seven astronauts and served in the U.S. Senate from 1975 to 1999.
Glenn said national tests and surveys today show “the general knowledge about government and politics by the average student is very, very low — and not only students, but their parents along with them.”
Recently released data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show deficiencies plague middle school students in the areas of history, geography and civics. The tests measure skills critical to the responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen.
For example, 51 percent of American eighth-graders taking a multiple choice civics test said a belief shared by most people in the U.S. is that the government should guarantee everybody a job. Wrong. The correct answer — picked by just 32 percent — is the belief that the government should be a democracy.
Only 38 percent correctly identified a presidential power not described in the Constitution. And just 39 percent could figure out that an aging population has significant implications for Social Security.
The 2014 scores haven’t improved over 2010 scores. Glenn and O’Connor warn that the poor performance shows kids lack a fundamental understanding about how the democratic system of government works.
iCivics Ohio hopes to correct that. The Capital Square Foundation will fund the site, iCivics will develop it and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University will be responsible for the content and maintenance.
iCivics uses computer games such as “Win the White House,” “Do I Have a Right?” and “Supreme Decision” to engage students.
“It approaches this thing on a level the kids are used to operating on — their computers and their thumbs working 90 miles per hour,” Glenn said, while imitating kids texting. “What’s this? The smart phone? That shows what generation I’m from.”
John Glenn is 93. Annie Glenn is 95.