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 American Bar Association 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.