Two US Supreme Court justices, in a rare public discussion on education, said civics must involve more than teaching government, but should include citizenship duties as well as education to the media and critical thinking at a time when a lot of misinformation is spreading.
“Most people think of civics as learning about government – how it works and what each branch of government does, et cetera,” Judge Sonia Sotomayor said in a recorded session conducted in May and played Thursday at a presidential Ronald Reagan educational forum. Foundation and Institute. “When I think of civics, it’s not just about how government works, but how our society works.”
Judge Amy Coney Barrett recalled that when a class of 3rd or 4th graders wrote to her recently, the judge’s 11-year-old daughter, Juliet, became interested and agreed to write letters in response. But when she discovered that some students had asked Barrett how she liked to “make laws”, Juliet became frustrated and sent a response to the whole class.
“She said, ‘I know this is really confusing,'” Barrett recounted, before offering more of a response from her daughter. “’People think the Supreme Court makes the laws. But that’s not what the Supreme Court does. They don’t make laws, it’s Congress.
“I was kind of proud of her,” Barrett said. “I thought, wow, I guess our dinner conversations are going downhill.”
Sotomayor and Barrett were interviewed by Yale law professor Akhil Reeh Amar for over an hour on civics and education and the video was released on July 28 as part of the Education Summit of the Ronald Reagan Institute, which is affiliated with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum and has a center on civics, education, and opportunity.
The interview was recorded on May 12, shortly after the draft notice was leaked in the prominent abortion case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In accordance with the draft, the court in its final opinion of June 24 canceled deer v. Wade and ended the federal constitutional right to abortion.
Amar did not ask Sotomayor or Barrett about the then recently leaked draft. He noted that “America is so divided and polarized now” and the two justices are often at odds on many issues.
“But here’s the amazing thing, you’re both at this event,” Amar said. “It’s really special.”
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Sotomayor has been active in civic education for yearsserving on the iCivics Board of Directors, the organization that develops computer games related to civics and was founded by retired judge Sandra Day O’Connor. Sotomayor has often appeared with Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to discuss civic education, including at an event in April 2021, just months after the U.S. Capitol was besieged by protesters challenging the results of the presidential election. Sotomayor and Gorsuch warned in this conversation of the risk to democracy of “national enemies”.
Barrett said that although she and Sotomayor often disagree on many issues, they strive to persuade each other.
“I just want the public to know, sometimes we know,” Barrett said. “Judge Sotomayor convinced me. We try to work together behind the scenes, and we don’t go there and we don’t make decisions and lock ourselves in. … We change our minds.
Sotomayor called for the inclusion of media literacy as part of civic education.
“Not tech-savvy” instruction, she says. “Most young people know how to use computers. But most people don’t pay attention to familiarizing themselves with the media. It is said that 73% of tweets that come out are filled with misinformation. And that more than half of young people admit that the tweets they post contain lies.
“Why we don’t teach media literacy as part of civics, I don’t really understand, with these statistics,” Sotomayor added. “Our democracy will only last if the people who participate in it respect the value we have and understand their responsibility to maintain it.”
Barrett, who with her husband spent part of the first pandemic helping educate their seven children with distance schooling, said in addition to media literacy, schools need to emphasize skills of critical thinking.
“It can happen outside of the context of just talking about politics or the media,” Barrett said. “I think when educators teach children ideas, in books, [challenge] let them dismantle the argument. What did you agree with? What are the weaknesses? For them to have critical thinking skills, so that as adults they are equipped to evaluate and critique the things they are given. To be able to decide for themselves whether it holds together or not.