Sandra Day O’Connor: “Make civic learning…a reality”

Justice O'Connor

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced today that she is stepping back from public life altogether, now that she has been diagnosed with dementia, “probably Alzheimer’s disease.”  She used the announcement to make a plea that we do something in particular for our kids and each other: teach civics. “I’ve seen first-hand how vital it is for all citizens to understand our Constitution…”

Those are good words to hear from anyone, and more so coming from someone who has been on the Court.

I don’t agree with every prescription Justice O’Connor makes for how to get civics education out there, but I agree with the goal. The very existence of GraniteGrok owes itself to a few people who cared deeply about the Constitution and the power of accountability vested in voters. In other words, they cared (and continue to care) about civics.

More from Justice O’Connor’s farewell statement – and if you want the unedited version, it’s easy to find:

Not long after I retired from the Supreme Court twelve years ago, I made a commitment to myself, my family, and my country that I would use whatever years I had left to advance civic learning and engagement.

I feel so strongly about the topic because I’ve seen first-hand how vital it is for all citizens to understand our Constitution and unique system of government, and participate actively in their communities. It is through this shared understanding of who we are that we can follow the approaches that have served us best over time – working collaboratively together in communities and in government to solve problems,…

(I’ll save a discussion of government-as-problem-solver for another day, perhaps during a civics lecture.)

…putting country and the common good above party and self-interest, and holding our key governmental institutions accountable.

…We must reach all our youth, and we need to find ways to get people – young and old – more involved in their communities and in their government. As my three sons are tired of hearing me say, “It’s not enough to understand, you’ve got to do something.” There is no more important work than deepening young people’s engagement in our nation.

I can no longer help lead this cause, due to my physical condition. It is time for new leaders to make civic learning and civic engagement a reality for all.

My best wishes to Justice O’Connor and all who will be caring for her in her illness. She might take comfort in knowing how many people share her concern that understanding our Constitution is vital.

Ellen is a writer, pro-life activist, and communications consultant. She blogs about life-issue politics in New Hampshire at Leaven for the Loaf.