(Adapted from my post at GraniteGrok.com.)
In a statement released earlier this week, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced that she has been diagnosed with dementia possibly related to Alzheimer’s disease. She is therefore stepping back from public life. I suspect she’s all too familiar with what’s ahead; as I recall, one reason she left the Court in 2006 was to care for her husband who had developed Alzheimer’s.
In her farewell statement, Justice O’Connor makes a strong appeal for something that means a lot to her: civics education, and an appreciation for it. “I feel so strongly about the topic because I’ve seen first-hand how vital it is for all citizens to understand our Constitution….”
That strikes a chord.
Her full statement is just over a page long. Here are a few excerpts.
Not long after I retired from the Supreme Court twelve years ago, I made a commitment to myself, my family, and my country that I would use whatever years I had left to advance civic learning and engagement.
I feel so strongly about the topic because I’ve seen first-hand how vital it is for all citizens to understand our Constitution and unique system of government, and participate actively in their communities. It is through this shared understanding of who we are that we can follow the approaches that have served us best over time – working collaboratively together in communities and in government to solve problems, putting country and the common good above party and self-interest, and holding our key governmental institutions accountable.
…We must reach all our youth, and we need to find ways to get people – young and old – more involved in their communities and in their government. As my three sons are tired of hearing me say, “It’s not enough to understand, you’ve got to do something.” There is no more important work than deepening young people’s engagement in our nation.
I can no longer help lead this cause, due to my physical condition. It is time for new leaders to make civic learning and civic engagement a reality for all.
One might quibble about details; her reference to government as a problem-solver is a civics question in itself. But I hope her call for the study of the Constitution hits home.
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