TALLAHASSEE — Far more Americans can name the judges on American Idol than can name the three branches of government, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor told Florida's legislators Tuesday in a push for increased civics education.
"Statistics show there is a strong correlation between ignorance and distrust of our government," she said. "We must take action to reverse the trend of removing civics from our schools before this cynicism begins to suffocate our democracy."
O'Connor, 79, is touring the country to promote a Web-based civics instruction program called Our Courts (http://ourcourts.org/).
"Today civics, government and 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 of 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," she said.
But as O'Connor lauded Florida for helping lead 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 (glitch)," McBurney said.
The 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.
O'Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, becoming the first female justice on the high court.