Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: Flawed education leaving Americans ignorant of government


Public schools in America have largely abandoned teaching civics and history, leaving a public largely ignorant of government and young people “disengaged from our civic life,” according to retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“Rather than being revamped, civics education has been all but removed from our public schools,” O’Connor told a packed house at Town Hall Seattle on Monday.

Tests measure students’ levels of achievement in mathematics, science and reading “but not on civics or history,” added the first woman to serve on the high court.

O’Connor noted that “the civic mission” was the very reason why America’s public schools were founded in the first place. “(Thomas) Jefferson believed only an educated citizenry would recognize and thwart tyranny,” she said.

She received a standing ovation at Town Hall, and nary a mention was made of the Supreme Court ruling that decided the 2000 presidential election ruling in favor of George W. Bush. O’Connor was the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision.

On Monday night, however, O’Connor argued: “Our democratic discourse has to begin in our schools . . . Self-government cannot survive unless young people engage .”

She praised Washington for a new law — written and advocated by a Vancouver, Wash., high school class — that requires schools to offer education in state government and history.

In O’Connor’s view, civics education and American history should be high school graduation requirements. She noted the 2008 election and signs that young people “might be reengaging in civic life.”

“Only about one-third of Americans can even name the three branches of government, let alone what each one does,” O’Connor said in her Town Hall talk, sponsored by the Seattle Public Library Foundation.

She voiced particular concern at ignorance of the judicial system. “The public knows least about the third branch of government,” said O’Connor.

A new Web site — — has been set up to remedy public ignorance

Comments are closed.