People packed into Dennison Theatre on Friday to watch former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor receive her honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Montana School of Law.
O’Connor, dressed in a black graduation gown and purple sash, stood before roughly 200 people to receive her degree, which was approved by law school faculty Senate and the Montana Board of Regents.
During the ceremony, O’Connor spoke about the importance of getting involved in the community and promoting civics education for younger generations.
“An informed and involved group of citizens is the life blood of our democracy and our government,” O’Connor said.
Less than one-tenth of American eighth-graders can name the three branches of government or say what they do, O’Conner said. She stated other statistics suggesting a lack of civics education in today’s schools.
“Less than one-third of eighth-graders can identify the historical importance of the Declaration of Independence,” O’Connor said. “And it’s right there in the name.”
O’Connor said because of the economic and policy changes happening in the U.S., it is important for younger generations to be informed.
“How can we expect the next generations to care about, to cherish and sustain our democratic institutions when they don’t know what they are or how they work?” O’Connor said.
To fight this absence of civics in school, O’Connor created icivics.org, a website that allows students to learn about civics in a fun, engaging way.
O’Connor said the site offers lesson plans for teachers, and video games for students.
“Yes, you heard right, this old cowgirl has gotten involved with video games,” O’Connor said.
She said the site has been successful. Studies show that students play the games at school, go home and play them again without being instructed, she said.
“Getting students to study by choice is what I call success,” she said.