Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has an Op-Ed in the Christian Science Monitor sounding a theme very simpatico with the Saguaro Seminar’s concerns: the strange disappearance of civics courses.
She notes that the recent uptick in youth voting is encouraging, but it is a thin democracy indeed without a deeper understanding of civics, which she notes is a casualty of high-stakes educational testing. And we have been paying the price in a decline in civic skills and knowledge. *On the last nationwide civics assessment, administered in 2006, two- thirds of students scored below proficiency. Not even a third of eighth-graders surveyed could identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Less than a fifth of high school seniors could explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.*
As troubling, she notes a growing race and class discrepancy: a *widening civic achievement gap. Hispanic and African-American students are twice as likely as their white counterparts to lack civic knowledge and skills, while low- income students score significantly lower than middle- and upper- income students. In other words, our schools’ failure when it comes to civic education is especially stark in communities most in need of civic engagement.*
She calls on states and the federal government on the 221rst anniversary of the Constitution to beef up the civic content of schools to truly make our democracy strong.
Read: Sandra Day O’Connor’s, “A democracy without civics?” (Christian Science Monitor Op-Ed, 9/18/08)