At last week’s Steering Committee meeting of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, we were honored by a visit from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I don’t want to quote the Justice verbatim, because I’m not sure if what she said was meant to be on the record. However, she spoke eloquently about the importance of civic education and youth civic engagement.
Several members of the Steering Committee argued for an experiential approach to civics. They said that we should help young people to play significant roles in their communities right now, and not wait until they become adults. The Justice seemed very supportive and even recalled her own experience in high school. She said that she was afraid and alienated there until she became part of extracurricular organizations.
She stayed with us for more than 90 minutes and asked probing questions. She was much gentler than she might be in oral argument at the Supreme Court, but much tougher and more acute than one would expect from a mere courtesy visit. She wanted to know what was working and what chance we had of succeeding with our advocacy campaign if we employed various strategies. I think she’s completely serious about this topic and ready to add her very powerful voice to the movement for youth civic engagement.