Monday, July 23rd, 2012
Writing for CNN’s “Schools of Thought” blog last week, Donna Krache discussed her meeting with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in which they talked about the former justice’s work promoting civic education:
O’Connor says that in her last year on the bench, she was “very much aware of the major issues and debates” being brought before the high court. There were lots of complaints about the decisions, she says, and many were directed at the judicial branch–with some blaming the justices for certain outcomes.
“As you analyzed it, it appeared to show in many cases that the concerns were misdirected: There was a tendency to blame the courts for things that were really not a judicial matter,” she told CNN.
The solution to that misunderstanding, she believes, is civics education–a subject she notes has changed through the years. She remembers her own schooling in El Paso, Texas, and how she learned about Texas government. Civics knowledge was helpful to her later in life, O’Connor says, and she’s disappointed that today, many schools have stopped teaching the subject.
But she believes young people do have a desire to learn civics because they want to participate in their government, to change things and better their lives. “There is an increasing appreciation that we do need to know how our government works: national, state and local,” says O’Connor. “And that this is part and parcel of the things that every young person wants to know because they want to have an effect.”
O’Connor advocates an analytical approach to an understanding of government that includes defining the problem or issue, identifying the government entity that is best able to address it, then determining a course of citizen action to effect change.
Identifying the problem, she says, is the first step toward change.
“We need to learn how to define a problem then tackle it as a local issue, a state issue, a national issue.”
To further her efforts promoting civic education, in 2009 O’Connor founded iCivics, an online platform that allows students to play games and simulations focusing on the three branches of governments and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Head over to the iCivics site to try your hand at running your own constitutional law firm or being president–or read the rest of CNN’s discussion with O’Connor here.