To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
Fact: A2009 Gallup poll indicated that only about one third of Americans could name the three branches of government.
Since retiring from the Supreme Court in 2006, Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has devoted much of her time to inspiring and engaging middle-school students and their teachers throughout the country to reinvigorate civics learning inside and outside of the classroom. In 2009, Justice O'Connor launched a website, ourcourts.com, which provides interactive civics lessons.
The New York County Lawyers' Association has always viewed education of our youth and improving public understanding of our legal system as a core part of its mission. NYCLA sponsors numerous programs aimed at providing civics education to New York City public high school students and teachers. Since 2007, our Justice Center, chaired by retired Justice George Bundy Smith, working in partnership with our Law-Related Education Committee, chaired by Hon. Richard Lee Price, and the Justice Resource Center, has conducted interactive seminars and professional development programs, focusing on an array of civics education topics. At these programs, we distribute our NYC Youth Law Manual , a 113-page manual with 23 chapters on legal topics of importance to young people, such as voting rights, family law, government assistance and cyberspace law, as well as an overview of the United States system of government and useful resources, such as hotline numbers and websites. (A pdf version of the Manual is available on NYCLA's website; to download, go to www.nycla.org and click on "Justice Center" and then on "Programs and Reports.")
Last December, students from eight New York City high schools attended a citywide conference entitled "Rights and Wrongs: What You and the Justice System Can Do About Discrimination." Skits, performed by student volunteers, illustrated confrontations with school safety officers and the police, and generated discussions about what young people's rights are in these situations and how they should respond. Students then enjoyed an interactive workshop in which they discussed bias incidents, as well as the role of lawyers in the justice system. Representatives from Pace University presented information about the college application process and financial aid, as well as an overview of some law-related majors like computer forensics.
At our most recent training program on May 19, high school teachers participated in a lively seminar featuring a speaker on "Cyberbullying: What Educators Need to Know" and panels on other forms of bullying and internet dangers. Program panelists included technology experts and representatives from the New York State Attorney General's Office, New York Civil Liberties Union and District Attorneys' Offices. Thus far, more than 1,000 New York City high school students and hundreds of teachers have been trained by volunteer lawyers and judges.
Our Law-Related Education Committee also sponsors an annual high school essay contest and presents monetary prizes and certificates to high school students who write essays on a given topic. This year, the topic was internet privacy and students were asked to take a position on whether adults, such as parents and teachers, have the right to read what students post online. Some of the over one hundred essays make fascinating reading and, while I hate to admit it, the quality of thought and crispness of expression would put my work at that age - and possibly today - to shame.
Finally, in addition to members of the Law-Related Education Committee visiting classrooms throughout the school year, the Committee sponsors an annual Law Week program in conjunction with the celebration of national Law Day. NYCLA members visit New York City high schools and discuss topics related to the Law Day theme. This year's theme was "Law in the 21st Century: Enduring Traditions and Emerging Challenges " and the topics speakers discussed were: Internet Law, Criminal Law and Careers in the Law.
NYCLA will continue offering educational programming to high school students and their teachers. Like Justice O'Connor, NYCLA recognizes the critical importance of having young people understand their rights and the role of the judicial system in our society.
James B. Kobak, Jr.