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Sandra Day O'Connor discusses civics education

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Posted: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 1:13 am

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor may be retired, but she made it known that even though she's no longer writing opinions, she's still got them.

During her two speeches at UF on Monday, O'Connor addressed the American public's ignorance regarding judiciary and civics education.

O'Connor said two-thirds of Americans can't name the three branches of government and less than half of Americans can name a Supreme Court justice.

O'Connor's first speech took place at the Phillips Center for Performing Arts and discussed judiciary reform, and her second speech, which discussed civic education, took place at University Auditorium.

"I think the biggest challenge we face today in our judicial government is the lack of understanding of the public of the role of courts in our country," O'Connor said at the Phillips Center.

For her first appearance, O'Connor spoke in front of a full house at the Phillips Center, where she discussed judiciary reform.

O'Connor's second appearance took place at University Auditorium, where she spoke in front of another full room of about 860 people. Her second appearance, during which she discussed civics education, originally was supposed to be held in the Pugh Hall auditorium. However, due to overcrowding, organizers had to move the event to the auditorium, said Ann Henderson, director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

The UF Levin College of Law sponsored the first appearance for the inaugural Allen L. Poucher Legal Education Series, and the Graham Center and Accent Speakers' Bureau sponsored the second appearance.

Pointing out that young people spend more than 40 hours a week in front of TV and computer screens, O'Connor said she mixed civics education with gaming to attract young people on her innovative website icivics.org.

"We need to educate, starting with young people," O'Connor said. "Those are our future voters."

Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, who was also on the panel at the Phillips Center, said the biggest problem is people not thinking for themselves and instead being told what to think by the media and talk shows.

"Americans take [talk shows] as gospel," Quince said.

Martha Barnett, moderator and former American Bar Association president, said education on the judicial system is the responsibility of the American public.

At University Auditorium, O'Connor said the United States education system is "unacceptable" and said that Americans should make civics education a requirement to re-engage citizens.

"We are complacent in this country about our rights and the responsibility we have," O'Connor said.

Welcome to the discussion.