Make us your home page

The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Justice O'Connor urges stronger civics education



Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor moments ago made a firm call to Florida lawmakers to continue to push civics education "before this cynicism begins to suffocate our democracy."

"It takes a renewed commitment for each generation to continue the great experiment that we Americans undertook in 1779," she said before a packed audience.

O'Connor is touring the country to promote a Web-based civics instruction called Our Courts. She lamented that more Americans can name the judges on American Idol than can name the three branches of government.

“Today civics, government and indeed American history are being pushed out of the classroom and the results are as dismal as they are unsurprising," O'Connor said, adding that nearly half the states no longer require civics and American history and that surveys show that three-quarters of Americans cannot distinguish the difference between a judge and a legislator. "They believe that judges are politicians in robes."

But as O'Connor lauded Florida for helping leading the way, questions loomed about a stalled civics bill in the House. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Charles McBurney calls for a civics assessment test in middle school.

The Jacksonville Republican said he has no idea why it was tabled in the preK-12 Appropriations Committee. "I hope it's just a technical snafu," McBurney said.

Committee chairwoman, Rep. Anitere Flores of Miami, said there was concern about a fiscal implications (few new spending measures are being approved in the tight budget year) but that is being worked out.

"Listening to Justice O'Connor's message today we know the importance of civics," Flores said.

Rep. Maria Lorts Sachs, who introduced the "cowgirl" justice, urged the women in the House to stand. "I want her to see how her battles she has waged and the life she has shown has affected so many women here today," Sachs said.

"These are the women whose lives have been changed because of your path, because of your life."

Listen to Buzz audio of O'Connor's speech here

“We have a long way to go to rejuvenate our nation’s commitment to building good citizens," O'Connor concluded. "But it does start with you, our nation’s legislators. And I’m confident that you’re going to continue to give this subject the attention it deserves."

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 7:35pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours