Civics Essential: A look back at trivia competitions across the state, plus a summer reading list

It was this time last year that the first of 11 articles in our Civics Essential series debuted. The subject of the piece: Terry v. Ohio — a landmark case that originated in Ohio and made its way to the United States Supreme Court, defining “reasonable suspicion” while laying the groundwork for stop-and-frisk rules.

It’s this same subject matter that sparked conversations in 14 libraries across the state as nearly 100 individuals gathered together for Jeopardy and trivia competitions emceed by lawyers, judges, and educators — all of whom had a part in furthering civics knowledge among Ohioans.

We polled participants, and 40 percent of respondents say they learned more about “important legal decisions” — particularly stop-and-frisk — as a result of keeping up with the series and attending Civics Essential Game Hours, which integrated both gameplay and educational discussions.

They had fun too; as an event manager for the series, it was certainly encouraging to see a seventh grade student enter the Lebanon Public Library by himself in anticipation of the game hour. Why? Because he “loves civics.”

And witnessing the battle for bragging rights at the Mentor Public Library — as there were two teams: one composed of elected officials, and the other, the voting public — was a testament to the ways we can all learn from one another when authenticity and engagement occur.

Eighty percent of participants say they plan to utilize game hour materials to engage others, too — by sharing Jeopardy and trivia with schools, community groups, family, and friends. One individual even plans to host a civics game-night party.

That’s what it’s all about — sparking an interest in civics, initiating conversations, prompting questions, and becoming a more informed, enthusiastic citizen.

The inaugural year of Civics Essential came to a close last month with the season’s final game hour at Delaware Main Library, but we thought it might be nice to leave you with a summer reading — and watching — list until phase two of the series begins.

It’s a handpicked selection from the experts who helped make Civics Essential Game Hours a success; it’s also a way to remain engaged in civics-related content until the series resumes next month.


Here’s what Ohio’s attorneys, judges, teachers, and librarians recommend:

1. Electoral Dysfunction: A Survivor Manual for American Voters by Victoria Bassetti, with a forward by Mo Rocca and an afterword by Heather Smith

Bassetti was prompted to do her due diligence when she learned that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to vote, so she collaborated with CBS Sunday Morning’s Mo Rocca and president of Rock the Vote, Heather Smith, to author this book.

Published in 2012, and coupled with a PBS documentary of the same name, Electoral Dysfunction provides readers with insight from voters, election workers, and elected officials on the motivations — or lack thereof — when it comes to casting a vote, as well as the voting process, its intricacies, and the complications that inevitably arise.

With another election season approaching, this is surely a timely work, and it’s one that’s available for both reading and streaming.


2. This America by Jill Lepore

Lepore is a historian at Harvard University and a staff writer for The New Yorker, and this book is a follow-up to her history of the United States titled These Truths.

Published just two months ago, This America takes a look, this time, at the history of nationalism and the ways in which it is currently rising.

Lepore argues for a “new Americanism” — one that calls on all people to grapple with our country’s past, and look at it with an open mind.

If we can do that, Lepore suggests that we can all work together to create a better nation. This is a quick read — just over 150 pages — and one that is particularly relevant given today’s cultural climate.


3. The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda Monk

Monk’s guide comes highly recommended and delivers a new relevance to the Constitution.

Originally published 15 years ago, The Words We Live By has been recently updated to include commentary on some of today’s most pressing issues, such as immigration and the right to bear arms.

Monk provides readers with anecdotes about the people behind a multitude of Supreme Court cases and explores the various interpretations of the nation’s 229-year-old document.

4. The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

Wright weaves together the stories of four men — Al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, FBI Counterterrorism Chief John O’Neill, and former Head of Saudi Intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal. By doing so, he provides readers with a historical narrative of the events leading up to 9/11 and the people affiliated with the tragedy.

Informed by five years of research and hundreds of interviews, The Looming Tower provides an in-depth look at 9/11, helping some to perhaps find closure through understanding, while aiming to help the nation deal with the ever present threat of continued terrorism.

5. Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

Drury’s novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1960. Our experts find it engaging enough for a re-read if it’s not your first time through.


The novel opens with Senate confirmation hearings for a Secretary of State and ends two weeks later, after a national crisis has unfolded as a result.

It takes a look at what happens when a president is faced with a moral dilemma that puts his own views at odds with what is best for the nation.

6. The West Wing

If you’re not in the mood for reading and instead feel like indulging in a day of binge watching, The West Wing is for you. There are seven seasons worth, and the drama won 26 Emmys.

Many of our experts recommend the series, as it depicts potentially realistic situations that can occur in the daily lives of the president and one’s staff.

Though the show is fictitious, many former White House staffers worked with The West Wing writers, serving as advisors to the show. It’s available for streaming on multiple platforms.
7. Madame Secretary

The final season of the show will air this fall, so there’s still time to catch up if you’re hoping to tune in for the season six premier on October 6.

Elizabeth McCord, former political science professor and CIA analyst, becomes Secretary of State, and the drama provides viewers a glimpse into her life as she engages in diplomacy while balancing politics with personal life and family.

There have been three female secretaries of state to date — Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton.

We hope you’ll continue to enhance your civics knowledge, and we look forward to hosting more of you at a Civics Essential Game Hour in 2020. In the meantime, happy summer reading!

Want to test your civics knowledge? Here's a link to the Final Jeopardy Game Board. 

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