Sandra Day O’Connor: Ignorance of American Civics

“The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance,” said former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor told the crowd that packed into a Boise State ballroom to hear her Thursday. About one-third can name the three branches of government. Fewer than one-fifth of high school seniors can explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.

But get this: “Less than one-third of eighth-graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and it’s right there in the name,” she said.
Today is primary election day in Toledo.  How many citizens do you guess will show at the polls today?  The mayorship and city council of Toledo are on the ballot.  Do our citizens care?  Do they know what a primary is? Do they even know that today is election day?

“The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance,” O’Connor said.

That ignorance starts in the earliest years of a child’s schooling, she said, but often continues all the way through college and graduate school.

O’Connor argued that learning about citizenship is just as important for American children as learning multiplication or how to write their names.

Apparently, public schools do not regard civics on the same level as mathematics and reading.  There are no proficiency tests of civics through grades 1-5.
To combat what she sees as a dangerous lack of civics in schools, O’Connor founded, a website for educators and students. The site uses games, lesson plans and activities to make learning about government and citizenship less boring.

Boring?  Boring is in the hands of the educator. Interestingly yesterday on Facebook my daughter attended an open house at her son’s high school. One of his teachers reminded her of a chemistry teacher she had- one that she and many of those who commented labeled ‘very boring.’  To address Justice O’Connor’s issue, why, with all of the technology and resources available to teachers today could a teacher these days be labeled boring? Perhaps they are too set in their ways? Too old? Too lazy?
Whatever, Ms. O’Connor has a very valid point.



15 thoughts on “Sandra Day O’Connor: Ignorance of American Civics

  1. Good Morning Muddy,
    Speaking of ignorance…this is so rich that I just had to pass this on.

    As I came to work this morning, walking to my desk, I saw two coworkers who are of the extreme right views and read the Drudge Report and American Thinker, etc.

    I said good morning and commented the morning radio was honoring 9/11.

    The one who’s total diet is KoolAid…reply was, “Yep..Hillary… Benghazi….”

    My reply was, “So which one did Hillary bomb; the Pentagon or the Trade Towers?”

    His answer was, “Both….Hillary…. Benghazi…” nodding his head as to accent and punctuate his complete knowledge on the subject.

    I continued on to my office knowing I had to pass this on. As I sat down to my desk the words of Isaac Asimov played through my head, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

  2. Oh my, Engineer! They are EVERYWHERE! Yet I suspect that hate has quite a lot to do with this self-imposed ignorance. Hate can paralyze brain cells, especially the cognitive section.

    BTW, the Toledo primary drew 10% turnout. Ten.

    1. Civics course? No, history reigned supreme there although Wharton often engaged [threatened!] his students with a political agenda.

        1. …probably because we lived through the Civil Rights struggle and witnessed the Jim Crow segregation laws being enforced the the South.

    1. Although, there is an amusing footnote here in that many right wing commentators are running this piece: some who are responsible for the ignorance.

      1. …some who are responsible for the ignorance. Quite!

        Laci, you know my hypothesis re that; but I will state it again. I contend that there is a large swath of our citizens who absorb propaganda like a blotter draws wet ink. Further, many of these same people absorb the ‘message’ of preachers equally easily. That is why so many Christian fundamentalists are hard- right in their politics. Same absorption factor.

        1. Some people find it easier to follow than think, yet they project their faults onto others.

          I’m not sure which is the one which is worse: right wing or religion. Probably the right wing since some people who are religious are lefty (as was their leader–Yeshua).

  3. It seems to me, M_R, that you are overlooking our formative civic
    philosophy, namely, our parents and “holy mother church.”

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