Friday, September 6, 2013
Two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice, former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor told the crowd that packed into a Boise State ballroom to hear her Thursday.
About one-third can name the three branches of government. Fewer than one-fifth of high school seniors can explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.
"Less than one-third of eighth-graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and it's right there in the name," she said.
O'Connor touted civics education during her keynote address at the "Transforming America: Women and Leadership in the 21st Century" conference, put on by the Andrus Center for Public Policy. She also described being a female lawyer in the 1950s, and challenged her listeners to help the next generation of leaders reach their goals.
O'CONNOR ON CIVICS
"The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance," O'Connor said.
That ignorance starts in the earliest years of a child's schooling, she said, but often continues all the way through college and graduate school.
O'Connor argued that learning about citizenship is just as important for American children as learning multiplication or how to write their names.
"We have to ensure that our citizens are well informed and prepared to face tough challenges," she said. "If there is a single child not learning about civics or not being exposed to what they must do as citizens, then all our lives are poorer for that."
To combat what she sees as a dangerous lack of civics in schools, O'Connor founded icivics.org, a website for educators and students. The site uses games, lesson plans and activities to make learning about government and citizenship less boring.