Illinois Supreme Court's new web feature to aid civics education

Ann Knef May 1, 2008, 3:00am

Justice Karmeier

Justice Thomas

Retired Justice O'Connor

Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier and the Illinois Supreme Court have announced a new feature on the court's website to help increase awareness about how Illinois government works.

The materials, available on the website at a new "Student Learning Center" are designed for middle school students, but are relevant to anyone wishing to learn about Illinois government and its history, according to a press release issued by the Court.

The new feature was announced in conjunction with Law Day, commemorated Wednesday, May 1.

"Good government is possible only when people understand how government works," Justice Karmeier said. "We hope the information provided by this new program will help students and others to become more engaged as citizens and more informed about the institutions which affect their lives."

Materials are available by clicking on the "Student Learning Center" of Illinois Courts at

Guided by an animated character "Gavy" -- depicted as a humanoid form of a judge's gavel -- the materials consist of seven lessons plus a quiz. Lessons cover the U.S. Constitution, the Illinois Constitution, the three branches of Illinois government, how laws are made in Illinois, voting in Illinois, the election process and local government.

Materials also contain Illinois state symbols ranging from the "Tully Monster" -- the state fossil, to the Painted Turtle -- the state reptile. The site contains memory puzzles and an electronically graded Illinois government and constitution quiz.

The idea for the materials was brought to the Court by Justices Rita B. Garman and Anne M. Burke after they had discussions with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor about the general lack or poor quality of civics education in the nation's schools.

Since her retirement Jan. 31, 2006, Justice O'Connor instituted the "Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary," which includes a nationwide effort to address what project officials describe as the "evident crisis in civics education" in the nation's schools.

Justice O'Connor addressed the issue of civics education at a conference in April 2007 at Loyola University School of Law, attended by several justices of the Illinois Supreme Court. Justices Garman and Burke also spoke to Justice O'Connor about the need for improved civics education at an October 2006 dinner in the Illinois Governor's Mansion, sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation and the Illinois State Bar Association.

The dinner honored the contributions of women in the judiciary including those of Justice O'Connor, Illinois Justices Garman and Burke and retired Illinois Chief Justice Mary Ann G. McMorrow.

"The Supreme Court is very pleased to announce this initiative in conjunction with Law Day on May 1," said Chief Justice Robert R. Thomas. "Fifty uears ago, President Eisenhower proclaimed Law Day as a way to celebrate and strengthen our great heritage of liberty, justice and equality under the law."

"We are very indebted to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor for sharing her ideas on this subject, and to our colleagues, Justice Garman and Justice Burke, for seeing through this initiative. We intend it as a beginning to help make all of us aware of the need to educate our young citizens in the traditions of our representative democracy."

Justice Charles E. Freeman, the most senior member on the Illinois Supreme Court, echoed the sentiments of his colleagues, and was particularly enthused about the Court's use of the Internet to provide informational and educational resources to young people.

"It is important that the Court is delivering information and knowledge using the latest technical initiatives," he said.

Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald also heralded the introduction of the program.

"I am delighted at the implementation of the Gavy program," he said. "It is essential to a free society that its citizens understand the workings of its government and the rights that protect them. This is a worthwhile endeavor to accomplish that purpose."

Justice Garman recalled the suprise she felt in talking to Justice O'Connor about the need for improved civics education.

"When I learned from Justice O'Connor that more people could name the Three Stooges than the three branches of government, I knew it was imperative that we devise an educational vehicle to engender interest in our system of government," she said.

Justice Karmeier recalled how a former generation learned about American government through a program called "I'm Just a Bill" on Schoolhouse Rock!

"Gavy is born of the same tradition, and we hope it resonates with young people today in the same way," he said.

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