Sandra Day O'Connor describes herself as a "product of the last century," but she's determined to be an up-to-date grandmother. She retired from the Supreme Court a little more than a year ago, and often watches her grandchildren playing on their computers. Inspired, she wants to harness this revolutionary instrument to teach kids the nuts and bolts of democracy.
She's creating an interactive website for teaching civics. Remember civics? Civics was where the "products of the last century" learned how their government was supposed to work, and were taught the responsibilities and obligations of an informed citizen. But fashions change, and "social studies" became a catchall class to teach history, sociology and government, and rarely well.
Earlier this year in a national test to measure their knowledge of how their world works, only half of the nation's 12th-graders understood what happens when federal and state laws conflict. Fewer than half could describe the meaning of federalism.
"I regard [civics] as a very important thing for our public schools to teach," Justice O'Connor told interviewers on Fox News Sunday. "It's critical for every generation to learn it. You don't inherit that knowledge through the gene pool." The Internet may be serendipity, because it engages young people in ways that books no longer do. She particularly wants to teach kids how the courts work. Only a Luddite would object.
Like Sandra Day O'Connor, I took civics, too. I still prefer to get knowledge from books, but the book's day seems to have passed. As long as we remain a plugged-in society, we'll have to tap into electronics to teach citizenship. That's the way the kids communicate. The schools will need all the help we can give them.
"In many, if not most, high schools today," says Justice O'Connor, "civics education is no longer required. And I don't know how long we can survive as a nation if we don't teach every generation how our government is structured and works."