Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at the 2009 presidential inauguration. That year, she launched iCivics, a Web-based education project, to provide free interactive lesson plans and games for learning civics. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor developed this sample civics curriculum for WP Magazine.

Justice O’Connor’s Civics

Course meets: Anywhere in the United States


Consider this your owner’s manual for the United States of America. This nation “of the people, by the people, for the people” belongs to you. That gives you both rights and responsibilities. Among those responsibilities is the duty to understand our democratic system of government and your role in it. If you are a U.S. citizen, you don’t need to pass any tests to vote or partake of any other privileges of being an American. But taking this course will help you become a more responsible citizen.

Required reading

Common Sense,” Thomas Paine,

The Constitution

Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln

The Fourteen Points, Woodrow Wilson

“Have You No Sense of Decency? transcript, Army-McCarthy hearings

“I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr.

“Ain’t I A Woman?,” Sojourner Truth

My Antonia,” Willa Cather

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou

Angle of Repose,” Wallace Stegner

Course field trips

For each location you visit, answer the following questions: What civic processes did you see in action? What rights and responsibilities compel you to participate in these civic processes? (Make sure you arrange it so you can see these bodies in action.)

1. Local courthouse

2. Town hall

3. Your state capital

4. Local newspaper

5. National park

Writing assignments

1. What is the most important issue we face as a nation? What do you think we can do about it? If the solution could involve government, write a letter to the appropriate person or agency who can address it. If you believe the solution is private, write a blog post directed at the people you think could make a difference.

2. Play the iCivics game Lawcraft. Does this seem like an accurate representation of how our legislative process works? Why or why not? Use examples of actual legislation that passed or failed to pass, either historical or recent.

3. Examine the decisions in one of the following Supreme Court cases: Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education, Tinker v. Des Moines. How do the decisions in this case reflect the principles of the Constitution? How do the decisions in this case shape the nature of citizenship in the United States?