around the bar
August 11, 2010

ABA President Calls on Lawyers to Teach Students About Civics

ABA President Stephen N. Zack will focus on civic education in America during his term as association president and is calling on lawyers across the country to get involved in a new effort to bring back civic education, not only to the nation’s classrooms, but also to America’s dining room tables.

Zack made a recent pitch for his educational program to bar leaders during a meeting of the National Conference of Bar Presidents in San Francisco.

“Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not know that the Bill of Rights protects religious freedom,” said Zack, quoting the results of a civic literacy report from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

“We are uniquely situated as a profession to do something about it,” said Zack.

“We’re going to go into every high school in America and teach civics,” he explained.  “We’re going to bring civics back to the workplace, to the dining room table, to the schools.  We’ll prepare a national civics test so you can talk about these issues with your children.  We will make it central to our daily life so that our way of life continues to be one of democracy.”

Zack, who was raised in Cuba, explained that the way of life for the Cuban people was forever altered because, as a nation, the people did not understand their obligations as citizens.

“We understood so little about what our obligations were.  Everybody can tell you what their rights are, but very few can tell you what their obligations are,” said Zack who noted that the Cuban Constitution and the U.S. Constitution are nearly identical.

Meeting panelists who spoke after Zack encouraged bar leaders to mobilize their members to reach out to superintendents, principals and teachers to let them know that the _ and other bar associations have existing curricula that can be tailored for use in individual classes – and taught by volunteer lawyers.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a California high school teacher, encouraged the audience, “You don’t need an elaborate curriculum.  You can use existing cases and set up a debate.”

She remarked, “Justice, privacy, respect – these are all parts of our social contract.  We are in trouble if students don’t understand it.”

ABA Public Education Division Director Mabel McKinney-Browning explained that her division has developed a curriculum that is ready for lawyers to take into classrooms.  In addition, she is preparing her division to serve as a clearinghouse through which lawyers can find the dozens of organizations that focus on civic education.

“We want to serve as one-stop shopping for you so that you can find what you need,” she said.

Michael Ungar, president of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, reported that lawyers in his association have been volunteering in two school districts for four years.  The bar has a program called “The Three Rs: Rights Responsibilities and Realities” that connects 10th graders with judges and lawyers who help them understand the rule of law.

So far, 4,000 students have been touched by the program.

McKinney-Browning said the ABA’s new Civics and Law Academies will provide a minimum of eight contact hours over three days between lawyers and students ages 13 – 19.  She is reaching out to bar associations, law schools, courts, young lawyer affiliates and youth-serving organizations to generate sponsors.

McKinney-Browning said they are creating a “scientifically-validated survey about the Constitution.”  This is the test that Zack wants to bring to Americans at school and at home.  His Commission on Civic Education in the Nation’s Schools will look to partner with a media company to distribute the survey.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor addressed the crowd with a pre-recorded video message urging lawyers to “help the next generation learn about our government and be activist citizens. The ABA can and must play a key role in bringing civics back to the schools.  Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

Video of Zack detailing the American Bar Academy and its goal to bridge the civics knowledge gap is available. Additionally, details on Zack’s other presidential initiatives are available from video of his Aug. 9 speech to the House of Delegates. Both videos are of broadcast quality and are available for embeds.

Comments (10)

  • Richard Dreyfuss
    10:17 PM September 2, 2010

    As someone whose father, sister, uncles and cousins are all lawyers, and whose first hero was Darrow, each time I find evidence that others are awakening to this Catastrophe in the making I am thrilled beyond measure. For this reason I established the non profit TDI, TheDreyfussInitiative.org,to teach those pre-partisan tools that are specifically handed to ‘the people as sovereign,’ to bring back civics to the public school system in the grades below high school graduation. I have developed exercises(many borrowed exercises that are 3000 years old) of
    Reason, Logic, Clarity of Thought, and Critical Analysis that are useful in all subjects at all levels, ‘Raising all boats,” so that the original mandate of Public Education is not forgotten in the present accelerating decay of of our institutions in general in the nation: the reasons given for public education was the creation of good citizenship. That your organization is recognizing this problem and is prepared to act is the first acknowledgement by a group of such influence. The need for our kids to be trained to excellence in those tools needed to maintain this Republic is clear and its absence is senselessness personified. Please take a look at TheDreyfussInitiative.org, and let me know any reaction or thoughts it might ignite. I offer my my support and willingness to help gladly.
    We are on a clock that few people realize, and some of you must have become aware of it. In a nation bound by ideas only, not teaching those ideas and the ‘real-politick’ of power means we are not bound. That is an invisible but fatal flaw.
    Thank you,
    Richard Dreyfuss

  • LA
    2:32 PM September 3, 2010

    Nobody wants to hear what your distorted liberal idea of civics is.

  • *Pingback*
    9:33 AM September 10, 2010
    This Post Referenced in: Law School News Roundup | 9/10/10 | Knewton LSAT by Knewton

    ... what you should do to round out your college career and prepare for the next phase of your life.3. ABA President Calls on Lawyers to Teach Students About Civics Thinking about law school?  Doing high school outreach could be in your future.  ABA Now ...

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    ... 3. ABA President Calls on Lawyers to Teach Students About Civics ...

  • hakeem
    1:52 AM September 23, 2010

    Teaching civics to the people is important but it is more important to teach civics to the lawyers

  • Kathleen
    4:57 PM October 25, 2010

    I agree with Richard Dreyfuss. The feedback we receive from our students who are involved in our Civics programs is phenomenal. They learn critical thinking, how to go beyond the soundbites, they gain confidence, poise, communication skills, knowledge of history and current events. They become volunteers and build a better community. They see options and possibilities. Civics is crucial to our survival as a nation.

  • Tesso
    3:29 AM December 1, 2010

    I share the idea of Richard cause civic enables all citizens to get knowledge about their right and duties.

  • Rich DeJana
    2:53 PM December 6, 2010

    We should take a moment and look at the We the People program. I have helped for a couple years in our high schools and it seems to be a wonderful experience for the students.

  • pingback #3
    4:00 PM January 27, 2011

    Font is too small

  • Marvin J. Rudnitsky
    11:15 AM June 10, 2011

    How can I get my hands on the teaching materials?