Category Archives: Sandra Day O’Connor

2008 Civic Health Index: Sustaining civic engagement beyond Election Day

The National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) today released their 2008 civic report called “America’s Civic Health Index: Beyond the Vote”. [True confessions: the Saguaro Seminar was a co-advisor to NCoC on the report, together with CIRCLE.]

The report focuses on the encouraging uptick in youth civic engagement and strategies for sustaining this engagement beyond Election Day. One of the cautionary findings of the report is that many Americans did not expect their political engagement to continue after Election Day.  For example, only 14% were confident they would try to change local policies regarding schools, work or neighborhoods.

That said, the report does note 4 policies on which there is broad bipartisan support:

  1. Giving young people the opportunity to earn tuition money through a year of service (87% support)
  2. Holding a national deliberation among citizens on some issue and requiring Congress to respond to what the citizen-deliberators say (80% support)
  3. Requiring service learning in schools (service learning uses community service projects to teach underlying academic skills; so for example a project to measure the pollution of a local streambed could also teach young people about scientific measurement).  76% of respondents support this.
  4. Strengthening civic education through new tests in this subject (67% support).

The report also highlights high levels of political participation thus far in the 2008 election and the many varied forms that this political participation is taking.

NCoC is featuring a keynote address by Sandra Day O’Connor who recently called for beefing up civics curricula and a panel this afternoon on sustaining civic engagement, featuring people like “Alan Khazei, Founder and CEO of Be the Change, Barb Quaintance VP of AARP, former Congressman Bob Edgar, CEO of Common Cause, Ian Rowe, Vice President at MTV, and Maya Enista, CEO of Mobilize.org. Political consultant Joe Trippi will moderate a discussion on the Internet community and community between Founding President of Facebook, Sean Parker and William Galston, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.”

All I Want for Christmas is our Civics back

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.

For some interesting links on civics, see our Saguaro page on this.

Read: Sandra Day O’Connor’s, “A democracy without civics?” (Christian Science Monitor Op-Ed, 9/18/08)