The Heights: Sandra Day O’Connor Stresses Civic Ed

Original article from The Heights.

April 4, 2013
By John Wiley

“Democracy certainly is not a spectator sport,” said former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “It requires the participation of all of us.”

A symposium titled “Law Schools and The Education of Democratic Citizens” was held at the Boston College Law School on Tuesday morning. The event served as part of an ongoing celebration of BC’s150th anniversary. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice appointed to the United States Supreme Court, joined MarthaMinow, dean of Harvard Law School, Timothy Macklem, head of the school of law at King’s College in London, and Vincent Rougeau, dean of BC Law, for a discussion on civics education. The symposium was moderated by Sharon Beckman, professor of criminal justice at BC Law.

“Frankly, the skills and knowledge to run government entities is not handed down through the gene pool,” O’Connor said. Born in El Paso, Tex., O’Connor earned her B.A. and Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B.) from Stanford University. In her legal career, she served as Assistant Attorney General of Arizona, first female Majority Leader of the Arizona State Senate, judge for the Maricopa Country Superior Court, and later the Arizona Court of Appeals. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated her as an associate Justice of the Supreme Court. O’Connor retired from the Court in 2006 after almost 25 years of service. In 2009, she founded iCivics Incorporated. Grounded in her campaign to reverse the declining civic knowledge of Americans, theiCivics website provides 16 educational video games and free civics resources for teachers.

“On the last nationwide civics assessment test, two-thirds of the students scored below sufficiency, and only one-third of adult Americans can name the three branches of government, let alone say what they do,” O’Connor said. “Seven percent of eighth graders can name the three branches of government. Less than one-third of eighth graders can tell us the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and it’s right there in the name. I hope I make my point here.”
“I do think that there is a special obligation for law schools and lawyers to tend to the issues of civic education,” Minowsaid, responding to O’Connor’s initiatives. “We make a bet in our kind of government that we can govern ourselves, and that we will do a good job in so proceeding, but that bet carries with it an enormous risk, and the risk is that we don’t invest in the time and energy that it takes to do it well.”

“We talk about democracy in louder terms than we ever have,” Macklem said, himself a native of Canada, currently teaching in the UK. “We go around the world, we engage in many different endeavors, some of questionable validity, and we talk the language of democracy. And yet we live in a world in which people will quite openly say ‘I’m not political. I just don’t do politics,’ as if that’s a possible position to have. Being not political is being political. It’s just bad politics.”

“When do we begin to speak of the common good?” Rougeau asked, later concluding, “I think when we do that, we will create a thriving democracy that engages citizens, promoting the principles of justice and fairness and equality, what we need to begin thinking about other concepts like sacrifice and sharing.”
Using O’Connor’s iCivics project as a springboard, Beckman posed the question of how law schools can do a better job preparing law students for lives of civic engagement.

“I think law students ought to start getting engaged even while still students in some group activity that accomplishes some of what you want to accomplish,” O’Connor said in response. “Getting people registered to vote, getting people active for certain causes that you think need to be furthered, and implementing that kind of thing.”
To conclude the symposium, Beckman redirected the focus toward O’Connor’s career.

“When you were a Supreme Court Justice, you did not only the job of being Supreme Court Justice, but being the first female Supreme Court Justice, which was a whole additional job, which you are still doing now on top of the judging that you’re doing,” Beckman said.

“Well, I’m not still doing it now,” O’Connor responded. “Listen, what’s fun now is when I go in the courtroom, and sit there, and look up at that bench and see three women on that bench, it’s a new sight.”

“Justice, you opened the conversation and I wanted to then give you the opportunity to have the final say,” Beckman said.

“Oh, I’m not good at the final say,” O’Connor said. “I’m not finished yet, so I don’t like having the final say.” O’Connor’s voice was quickly drowned by the applause of the audience.

Read the original article here

April 5, 2013
In: Civic Learning in the News

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