Though her career on the U.S. Supreme Court often took center stage, Justice O’Connor saw her founding of iCivics, the country’s premier provider of and leading advocate for civic education, as her legacy.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Dec. 1, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — As the nation mourns the passing of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, she will be remembered not just for her seminal work with the Court, but as the founder of a movement to revitalize civic education.
Appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981 by Ronald Reagan, O’Connor was known as a moderate and master of intelligent compromise. When she retired in 2006, O’Connor began work on what she would see as her true legacy—ensuring that millions of young Americans were educated on how our government works and empowered to become informed and engaged participants in our self-governing society.
In 2009, O’Connor founded the nonprofit iCivics with the goal of transforming civic education for every student in the United States.
iCivics started this work by creating innovative, engaging online games and resources. Since its inception, iCivics’ games have been played more than 189 million times. All iCivics content is completely free and nonpartisan—and is now used by up to 9 million students and 145,000 teachers annually in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“Justice O’Connor was both a great Justice and a great person. She brought such experience and integrity to everything she did. Her legal and political career was exceptional, at a time when the obstacles for women were formidable; providing a thoughtful ballast and balance to the Court, and continuing to make important contributions to America and its civic institutions after she stepped down,” iCivics Board Chair Larry Kramer said. “iCivics was her brainchild. She spotted the need and importance of reinvigorating civic education before others, and she led the creation of an innovative leader in the field. As important, she was kind and generous, a friend and mentor to countless young people.”
Remembered as a trailblazer for her work on the Court, it was the path Justice O’Connor blazed after she retired from the U.S. Supreme Court—as a pioneer in advancing civic education—that she stated both privately and publicly was what she considered her true legacy.
“If we want our democracy to thrive, we must commit to educating our youth about civics, and to helping young people understand their crucial role as informed, active citizens in their communities and in our nation,” Justice O’Connor said in her final remarks to the public in 2018, as she withdrew from public life because of her health. “We must arm today’s young people with innovative civic education that is relevant to them. Bringing high-quality civics to every school in every state of our union is the only way that the next generations will become effective citizens and leaders.”
Over the last decade, iCivics has supported its work in the classroom through its leadership of a movement to make civic education a nationwide priority. iCivics founded CivXNow.org, a politically and culturally diverse coalition of more than 300 major organizations, universities, and foundations that are working across political lines to improve civic education.
In 2021, iCivics along with Harvard, Tufts and Arizona State Universities unveiled the Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy (EAD). The initiative, first funded under the Trump Administration and continued under the Biden Administration, crafted a framework that charts the path toward a vibrant and diverse constitutional democracy through civics and history education.
“I came to work at iCivics to fulfill Justice O’Connor’s vision for a civic education that prepares students for civic engagement. During my interview for the position, she told me that it was not enough for students to know, they must also do, be engaged and solve problems,” iCivics Chief Executive Officer Louise Dubé said. “The Justice’s career is a testimony to civic service and dedication to the country. My goal remains to fulfill her vision and make her proud. And there are no words for how much she has meant for iCivics, civic education, and how deeply we will miss her.”
iCivics is a nonprofit organization working to inspire lifelong civic engagement by providing high-quality and engaging civics resources, and advocating for civic education through its CivXNow Coalition of more than 300 organizational members. Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to develop free educational video games and lessons that teach young Americans to be knowledgeable, curious, and engaged in civic life, iCivics is the country’s largest provider of civic education content and is currently used by up to 145,000 educators and 9 million students annually. All of its resources are free, nonpartisan, and available online at icivics.org.