Justice Souter on civic education

(Concord, NH) I am here for one of a series of fairly regular meetings on civic education in New Hampshire. Justice David Souter is an engaged and thoughtful participant in the group. To get a sense of his underlying values, see his comments at a Harvard Law School event recently. He was on a panel with Justice O’Connor, Prof. Lawrence Tribe, and Kenneth Starr (in his new role as president of Baylor University). But I thought Justice Souter stole the show with an impassioned and substantive mini-speech that starts around minute 7 on the video below. His thesis: America fortunately promotes freedom and diversity, but we need some commonality to counter the “disuniting tendencies” of our time, the “wealth disparities,” the impact of money on politics, and other “atomizing and disuniting” forces.  Our common ground is a constitutional value-system that is neutral with respect to religion and culture. In order to appreciate that constitutional creed or heritage, you must understand it. That requires facts–hence, civic education.

My own remarks earlier in the same conference don’t seem to be on YouTube, but I had argued for setting a high standard and not settling for kids being able to memorize the answers to a civics test. I made a similar point in my recent CNN piece.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.