Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the keynote speaker in the first general session of the conference. She opened her address with the challenge "we can do better" when it comes to teaching subjects that are not routinely tested or part of No Child Left Behind. The "importance of a good civics education" was stressed as essential for producing citizens who are "actively involved" in society.
When O'Connor retired from the Supreme Court, she was invited to be part of the Central European Law Initiative which advised newly-emerging central and eastern European nations on establishing democracies. Of the 26 nations that participated, more than half are now members of the European Union. "Our system is a model to the world," she said, "because it has survived so long through so many changes and challenges."
"The citizens are responsible for democracy and better educated citizens do that better." O'Connor lamented the fact that "civics education in the past didn't seem to stick." She is co-chairing a national campaign to make civics lessons more exciting and relevant for students today. This is critical, she believes, because only 1 in 3 Americans can name the three branches of government and less than 1 in 10 can name the Chief Justice. However, 2 in 3 can name at least one American Idol judge.
"Civics classes should be useful, dynamic and engaging because everyone matters to the success of our government. An educated citizenry is the key to a healthy and robust democracy."
Needless to say, Justice O'Connor was thanked by a standing ovation.
If you would like to read more about Justice O'Connor's efforts to revitalize civics education, just follow the links...