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Justice O'Connor promotes civics to high school students

September 21, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (ret.) spoke to high school students on Monday at the law school named in her honor at Arizona State University. The speech was part of the U.S. State Department’s Youth Leadership Program, and co-sponsored by the Center for Law and Global Affairs.

After a brief introduction by Dean Douglas Sylvester, in which he described Justice O’Connor’s varied background in many fields of law, she participated in a question and answer segment led by law professor Charles Calleros.

This year, the YLP selected 120 students from Azerbaijan, a country in southwestern Asia, to spend three weeks in Tempe and Seattle, in an exchange experience focused on the role of youth in social entrepreneurship.

Justice O’Connor spoke about the importance of teaching civics, a subject she said is severely lacking in most public schools.

“They (public schools) used to routinely teach children of all ages how our government works,” Justice O’Connor said. “In fact, the first public schools were started in order to teach civics to youth.”

Justice O’Connor founded the website in 2009 to reverse the decline in civic participation among children. She said she realized that in order to preserve democracy, a nation must teach the next generation to understand and respect government, and so the website features numerous interactive video games and other educational materials.

Justice O’Connor emphasized the importance of children learning to cope with differing opinions and ideas. Due to increasing bipartisanship in politics, children need to develop the ability to see all sides before making major decisions.

“You have to learn to disagree agreeably,” she said.

This works on the most intimate and casual levels and should work “all the way up to the Supreme Court,” O’Connor said.

Monday’s activities also included students from South Mountain High School. In addition to Justice O’Connor’s lecture, students attended presentations given by Calleros and Daniel Rothenberg, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Global Affairs.

Between presentations, the students played games on, and participated in a “teen court” activity.