Computer Game Used to Teach School Children About Their Constitutional Rights

When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor assumed office on August 6, 2009, after being appointed by President Barack Obama, she made history. Aside from being the first Supreme Court justice of Hispanic heritage to serve on the highest federal court in the United States, she is also only the third female to take the bench in the Supreme Court’s 228-year history. Sotomayor’s accomplishments have undoubtedly inspired a new generation of young people to break down barriers and follow their dreams and, since 2011, she has been reaching out to the Hispanic immigrant community in a surprising way – by helping to design a video game that teaches U.S. civics to students across the country.

As a board member of iCivics, a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 150,000 teachers committed to imparting U.S. civic knowledge and attitudes in the classroom, Sotomayor noticed that many traditional civics textbooks were too dense and intimidating to students, especially native Spanish speakers who were learning English as a second language. She envisioned an educational video game as a better way to introduce students to the importance of civic engagement, and, in 2011, the computer game “Do I Have a Right?” debuted on the iCivics website and became wildly popular in classrooms around the country. Last month, the game became available in a Spanish language version called “Tengo Algun Derecho?”

The concept of “Do I Have a Right” allows players to manage their own virtual law firms and simulate pro-bono cases for clients who feel their rights have been violated. Each session of the game is about 30 minutes long, which allows some students to absorb the material more fully compared to a traditional reading assignment. Sotomayor was passionate about including a Spanish language version of the game alongside the English version to engage the 4.5 million students learning the English language by immersion in the U.S., many of whom are immigrants or second generation Americans who speak Spanish as their native language. The game has made an impact on this unique student demographic, including a middle schooler who arrived in the U.S. from Cuba less than two years ago. He recently told NBC News, “The games allow me to learn about the rights that I have as a citizen; to me that is important since I am a new immigrant.” [See Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Great Idea for Teaching Civics to English-Language Learners, by Alexandra Campbell, NBC News, 13.Dec.2017.]

Justice Sotomayor, for her part, is proud to be a role model for young Americans who are passionate about civic engagement. In a recent interview with Mezcla, she reflected on how the game she helped to build is influencing a whole new generation of lawyers, advocates, and perhaps even a future Supreme Court justice or two. “Supporting students is a cause very near to my heart. We need all young people engaged in the future of our democracy. Initiatives such as this one mark an important step towards ensuring that, no matter what language they speak, all young people have access to the knowledge and skills they need to fully participate in those important conversations.” [See Sonia Sotomayor’s Innovative Game is Helping Young ESL Students Learn About Their Rights, by Adriana Catano, Mezcla, 18.Dec.2017.]


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