State Bar Asks Lawyers to Back Civics Education

, New York Law Journal


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The New York State Bar Association has adopted a report urging lawyers and judges to take the lead in their communities to improve civics education in local schools.

The report from the state bar's Law, Youth and Citizenship Committee on Civic Education recommended that civics, including the study of law, government and history, be taught in each of the elementary, middle and high school grades to give students the "skills necessary to be an effective citizen."

"A robust civic education is vital for promoting a culture of engagement in the democratic process and ensuring that all Americans, regardless of socio-economic status, race and national origin, are informed, thoughtful and active citizens," the committee's report said.

The state bar said its push to enhance civics education is in keeping with the group's decades-long commitment to the topic.

Last fall, it co-sponsored an appearance in Albany by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter in which he called for schools to devote more teaching time to civics.

A report from a committee organized by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences found that fewer than 30 percent of high school seniors are proficient in writing, history and civics. Souter is a member of that American Academy committee.

Souter's former colleague on the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, is also promoting iCivics, a program that makes civics curriculum available to educators online.

In 2011, then-state bar president Vincent Doyle III, of Connors & Vilardo of Buffalo, warned of the "weakening" of the commitment to civics education in public schools and directed the Law, Youth and Citizenship Committee to prepare recommendations about how to reverse it.

The report endorsed Friday by the state bar's House of Delegates urged the group to put pressure on the governor, the Legislature, the state Education Department and the Board of Regents to enhance the civics curriculum and to provide funds to support it.

According to the panel, the legal profession benefits from an "active, informed and engaged" citizenry.

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