Monday, April 23rd, 2012
Earlier this month, the Washington Post ran a great interview with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the importance of civic education in the U.S. Justice O’Connor, who chairs the online civic education site iCivics, has been a leading spokeswoman for the cause of civic education in recent years, and her latest interview is well worth reading. Some excerpts:
Q. Why civics, and why now?
A. In over half the states in the union, civics education is not required. The only reason we have public school education in America is because in the early days of the country, our leaders thought we had to teach our young generation about citizenship … that obligation never ends. If we don’t take every generation of young people and make sure they understand that they are an essential part of government, we won’t survive. We don’t teach our own kids. It’s insane.
Q. For Congress and state lawmakers pledging more budget cuts and austerity measures, can civics be a cost-free–or nearly cost-free–proposition?
A. None of it has to cost more than a dime or more than states are already spending. We have to make sure that the teachers [social studies, history, etc.] are going be integrated into civic education. It’s not that we need additional money; we need a focus, a requirement, a concern. You don’t need legislation; you need a commitment. That should be the objective of every high school and middle school in America.
Q. I know your judicial approach to federalism was conscious of the appropriate divide of jurisdiction, but many civics activists believe that, without a systematic approach, isolated solutions will not cure the problem. Do you agree?
A. [No.] We are taking a state-based approach. That’s why we have tried to get chairmen and women in every state’s government who are dedicated and enthused about civics. […]
Q. Is civics important to ensure that our country doesn’t suffer from a robotic bureaucracy?
A. Yes. You need to feel like you’re part of government, and that you can make things happen. Get a legislature to take on a cause. These things matter for young people. You can go through life and not find a lot of inspiring people [in government] –maybe they’re in short supply. We need to find the kinds of leaders who make a difference. It’s a small percentage. Everybody can have an effective hand and voice in making our world a special place.