Sandra Day O’Conner Champions Civics Eduction
This is not the first time that CP has praised the work of Sandra Day O’Conner.
There is every reason to applaud the efforts of Sandra Day O’Conner for making merit selection of court justices better understood and accepted as a most practical way to ease the politicization of the judiciary.
Now comes another reason to support the efforts of the former member of the Supreme Court.
This blog has long been concerned with the dismal way civics is taught in our public schools–if it is taught at all.
This weekend O’Conner had some words to add to the debate about the need for more civics eduction, and CP strongly agrees.
How can we rebuild the public’s confidence in the court?
[We need] to teach people about the proper role of the U.S. Supreme Court. It isn’t a political branch of the government. It resolves legal disputes and interprets laws passed by Congress. We’re going through a period where apparently voters are more suspicious about the motives of the court, and that’s unfortunate. The court is the only branch of government that explains the reasons for its decisions. The health care opinion is more than 100 pages long. If people would stop to examine those reasons now and then, maybe they’d be more accepting of the process and the system. I would hope so.
Since you stepped down from the court, you’ve been working to teach young people about how our government functions. Tell us about your effort to improve civics education.
I think it’s the most important thing I’ve done. We have a complex system of government. You have to teach it to every generation. We want [young people] to continue to be part of it. We need ’em more than ever.
An Annenberg poll found that more people could name an American Idol judge than the chief justice of the United States.
That’s right. We have to do something about it. I want to [start with] middle schoolers. They enjoy learning at that age.
Your website, iCivics.org, is designed to make civics fun. How does it work?
What we know is that kids like to play games on the computer. So I set up an advisory group of fabulous teachers to tell me what we needed to focus on in a civics course. And then we [had] games designed that focus on [those parameters]. Young people spend an average of 40 hours a week in front of a screen. One or two hours a week would do to teach them civics.
The site also offers curriculum materials, right?
Yes, [materials] that teachers can use. Baylor University did a study: They put iCivics to use in a lot of schools in Texas for about three months. They didn’t just say it was good; they gave it rave reviews, said it was incredible, that it’s engaging, that the kids really learn.
The program is now used in 50 states and an estimated 55,000 classrooms.
I want to be in a lot more than that. I mean, that’s just to start.
What happens if we fail to teach our children civics?
You have citizens who don’t understand how government works and they’re kind of soured on it. All they do is criticize. They have no idea that they can make things happen. As a citizen, you need to know how to be a part of it, how to express yourself—and not just by voting. [Test your own civics knowledge with the Pop Quiz, left.]