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Justice Sandra Day O’Connor discusses civics on Morning Joe

Earlier this week, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show to discuss her on-going work on civics and her newest book, Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. As we’ve noted before, after stepping down from the Supreme Court, O’Connor founded iCivics, an online learning platform that allows students to play games that focus on the three branches of government and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

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A conversation with Sandra Day O’Connor

In Sunday’s issue of Parade Magazine, David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School, has a “candid conversation” with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Since leaving the Court, O’Connor has focused much of her attention on promoting civic education through her organization iCivics, about which she speaks with Gergen.

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Sandra Day O’Connor champions civics education

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.

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Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the Civic Mission of Schools

We reported in September about how the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools has released its new report, “Guardian of Democracy.”

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is also excited, and has contributed a series of interviews about the importance of the new report and about the state of civic education in the country.

Watch them here.

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Civics education: Why it matters to democracy, society, and you

On April 1, Harvard Law School and the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools is hosting an all-day conference on civics education. Among the names that will be presenting include Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Justice David Souter (both retired from the Supreme Court), Peter Levine (CIRCLE), Gene Koo (iCivics),  Martha Kanter (US Department of Education), Ted McConnell (Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools), and Scott Warren (Generation Citizen)—and many others.

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Civics education and Common Core

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) recently completed a study of the iCivics computer-based teaching module called Drafting Board. iCivics is an online civic education platform founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that seeks to prepare “young Americans to become knowledgeable, engaged 21st century citizens” by providing educational video games and teaching materials available at its website.

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A path to citizenship

Writing in The Atlantic, Eric Liu, a former Clinton speechwriter and creator of Citizen University, warns that with all the discussion that’s sure to come about immigration reform, we must be careful not to neglect discussing the destination: citizenship itself.  “What is this thing that needs to be earned?” he asks. “What, besides a bundle of rights, does the status entail and require? What do longstanding citizens take for granted and what is asked of brand-new Americans?”

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Lou Frey talks citizenship

In an interview last week with Florida Today, Lou Frey, a former US Congressman and founder of the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at the University of Central Florida, discussed the importance of civic education efforts in his state. Florida is currently field-testing a new high school civics exam, which it plans to implement statewide next year, and has been leader in promoting civic education for all K-12 students.

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Citizenship round-up

Here are some recent happenings in the citizenship world:

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Lawyers and civic education

Writing in The Atlantic, Randall T. Shepard, a former Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, argues that the legal profession has an important role to play in strengthening the civic education and engagement of the general public.

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Mid-week roundup

Some recent items of note:

  • Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has created a sample civics curriculum for the Washington Post.
  • Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school system, has an article in The Atlantic in which he uses the KIPP system as an example of what can happen when teachers and administrators are freed to try out new ways of teaching students.
  • Over at the Army’s blog, Chaplain (Maj.) Carlos C. Huerta has a moving account of dealing with PTSD upon his return home from Iraq, and he encourages other soldiers to seek help.
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Why civics?

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.

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2011 Top books for citizenship

Inspired by our friends at NCoC and the Claremont Institute, the Program thought it would try its hand at a best-of-the-year list for books on citizenship:

  • What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, edited by Amy A. Kass, Leon R. Kass, and Diana Schaub. An anthology of 74 great American short stories, speeches, and songs. Reacquaint yourself with classics, both old and new, with selections by Jack London, Edward Everett Hale, Frederick Douglass, Ring Lardner, O. Henry, Flannery O’Connor, and many more.
  • Conserving Liberty by Mark Blitz. A spirited defense of American civic virtue. Claremont McKenna College professor Mark Blitz reminds us that individual liberty alone cannot produce happiness. To secure our rights and use them successfully, we need certain virtues: responsibility, toleration, individual excellence, and self-government.
  • Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education. Editor David Feith lines up a cast of civic-minded all-stars–Rick Hess (AEI), Peter Levine (CIRCLE), Bruce Cole (Hudson Institute), and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor–to argue for reinvigorating civic education in our nation’s schools. Look for great things to come as Feith launches the Civic Education Initiative with top charter network Democracy Prep Public Schools.
  • Failing Liberty 101: How We Are Leaving Young Americans Unprepared for Citizenship in a Free Society. Another fine volume on the importance of civic education by noted scholar William Damon. Damon was moved to write Failing Liberty after interviewing American high-school students about what U.S. citizenship meant to them. The results, as described in this book, are deeply troubling, raising “the very real possibility that our democracy will be left in the hands of a citizenry unprepared to govern it and unwilling the make the sacrifices needed to preserve it.”
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Strengthening and understanding the “youth vote”

Our friends at The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning Engagement (CIRCLE) have released a new report that looks at the ways that young voters aged 18-29 engage  in the American political system. Entitled “Understanding a Diverse Generation: Youth Civic Engagement in the United States,” the report clarifies what the “youth vote” actually means, and reveals just how diverse a voting bloc it is. The study compared civic engagement behaviors among young adults between 2008 and 2010, and divided them into different descriptive groups–or “clusters”–based on their activity and engagement. As the study illustrates,

Consider the Broadly Engaged and Civically Alienated clusters [representing 19% and 16.1%, respectively, of young Americans in 2008]. Almost everyone in the Broadly Engaged cluster voted and many also volunteered, worked with youth in their communities, attended public meetings or worked with neighbors to address community problems. Most had at least some college education and 70.6% were White. Meanwhile, the Civically Alienated group did not vote, volunteer, belong to any groups or otherwise participate in local civil society. A majority held a high school diploma or less, only ten percent were college graduates and a majority were people of color.

The study shows the dangers of broadly categorizing–in Peter Levine’s words–“the most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse generation in American history” as “the youth vote.” But, for those concerned about strengthening civic engagement, the report also reinforces that there are some social indicators–like education, for instance–that are consistently correlated with increased engagement. If we want more civically engaged youth, a focus on civic education in schools is a must.

One area of hope for this is the recently proposed H.R. 3464, known as the “Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2011.” Introduced by Representatives Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Mike Honda of California, the bill would provide a competitive grant program for civic education programs–especially for underserved schools. Additionally, the act would provide increased data from the NAEP civics and history tests to allow each state to learn more about how its students fare in their civic education. To learn more about the bill, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools has an informative endorsement of the bill, and you can follow the bill’s progress at OpenCongress.

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Civic health, engagement, and…the economy?

In yesterday’s USA Today, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (now chair of iCivics) and former Florida governor-turned-U.S. Senator Bob Graham penned an op-ed in which they discussed recent findings that show a positive correlation between civic engagement and low (comparative) changes in unemployment.

The study, released last month by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), combined eight commonly used economic factors with five civic engagement measures to predict unemployment since 2006. When using just the traditionally used economic factors, the researchers could explain about 38 percent of the variation in the change in unemployment rates among different states, but when the civic engagement measures (volunteering, attending public meetings, working with neighbors to address community problems, registering to vote, and voting) were added, the model explained 68 percent of the variation in unemployment change.

As O’Connor and Graham explain,

Such trends are borne out at the state level. Eight of the 11 states with the highest volunteering rates at the outset of the financial crisis–Alaska, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota and Vermont–experienced among the smallest rises in unemployment. Seven of the 10 states with the lowest volunteering rates–Arizona, California, Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Rhode Island and Delaware–experienced among the highest increases in unemployment.

Using these results, the two authors conclude: “For the sake of our democracy and our economy, it is time for America to reinvest in civics. The connection between civic learning and economic success begins early in life, but civics has all but vanished from the public school curriculum…The secret to America’s success is the strength of our civil society. An informed citizenry lays the foundation for not just democracy but also for an innovative, dynamic economy.”

Another leader working to this end is David Feith, whose recent compilation Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education we have profiled before (and which includes contributions by both Justice O’Connor and Senator Graham). Tevi Troy has a good interview of Feith over at New Books in Public Policy, which is very much worth listening to. The interview can be found here.

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A republic–if you can keep it

In the past week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and former Congressman Lee Hamilton (now Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University) all weighed in on the civics crisis.

Writing for The Daily Beast, Justice O’Connor and Secretary Duncan note that “ill-informed high school students soon become ill-informed citizens.” Emphasizing the importance of civic education, the pair write that “the founders, from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, understood that informed citizens were a bulwark against tyranny and vital to a functioning democracy. When the founding fathers exited Independence Hall after drafting the Constitution, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, ‘What have we got—a republic or a monarchy?’ ‘A republic,’ Franklin replied, ‘if you can keep it.’”

An emphasis on civics is essential for young Americans today:

When done well, civics education in fact equips students with the very skills they need to succeed in the 21st century—the ability to communicate effectively, to work collectively, to hone critical questions, and to appreciate diversity. As the education professor Tony Wagner has pointed out, there is a happy “convergence between the skills most needed in the global knowledge economy and those most needed to keep our democracy safe and vibrant.”

Check out the whole article here, and visit Justice O’Connor’s online civics lab over at iCivics.

Hamilton’s op-ed makes a similar argument: Civic skills (as opposed to simply knowledge of civics) are important for all areas of life:

Citizenship requires both knowledge about government and the ability to be involved in governance. It means knowing how to identify and inform yourself about issues, explore and evaluate possible solutions, and then act to resolve problems. It demands that you know how to interact respectfully with others. And it asks that you accept responsibility for meeting your community’s and the nation’s challenges…Only by spending time with people who think differently, learning how to listen to them and to seek common ground, do we truly learn what it takes to make a diverse republic work.

Read the whole thing.

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