There may be some people out there who try to game the system, but Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has proven that turning the American justice system into a game might be just the thing to help English language learners get a better grasp on U.S. civics.
Not only is Sotomayor the first Latina Supreme Court justice, but she also sits on the board of iCivics — a nonprofit organization that promotes civics education. Sotomayor wanted to create an interactive Spanish-language game that could be accessed by computer to help English learners understand U.S. civics in better ways than traditional methods would provide. It’s been more than 200 years since the Constitution was created, and since that time, language has evolved quite a bit, which can make dense civics books and historical documents extremely difficult for ELL (English Language Learning) students to understand and apply to their own lives. She felt that there must be a more effective means of teaching the material that has real-life applications.
In 2011, Sotomayor’s vision came to life when “Do I Have a Right?” (or “¿Tengo Algún Derecho?” in Spanish) was released. In the game, players run their own legal firms and handle pro-bono cases for clients who feel their rights have been violated. Through the game’s half-hour sequences, players come to understand the complexities of American civil liberties and U.S. democracy. The free game has been played nearly 9 million times since its release.
Not only is the game informational and fun, but it could have a real impact on how involved American citizens are in the governmental process. Studies have found links between knowledge of U.S. civics and a person’s level of participation in the voting process, regardless of how they identify politically.
Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, recalled the outcome of a 2013 study to NBC News:
“Young people who recalled experiencing more high-quality civic education practices in schools were more likely to vote, to form political opinions, to know campaign issues, and to know general facts about the U.S. political system. Civics education was not related to partisanship or choice of candidate. These results should allay political concerns about civic education being taught in schools.”
Ultimately, Justice Sotomayor is thrilled that the game has had such an effect on young minds.
“Supporting students is a cause very near to my heart,” said Justice Sotomayor. “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.”