Improving civic education critical for California

150 150 John Guenther

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakuaye spoke last week at The Civic Learning California Summit. (Photo Credit: Justice Cantil-Sakuaye)

What does Superintendent of Public Instruction and the California Chief Justice have in common? A vested interest in promoting improved civic education in California.

“All of us share a common interest, that is the future of the state of California. We have a common purpose, that is to make sure that democracy continues to flourish and our common vehicle for that is civic learning,” stated Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakuaye last week at The Civic Learning California Summit she co-sponsored with Superintendent Tom Torlakson in Sacramento.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakuaye explained in her welcoming remarks, “This summit brings together a diverse group of community resources, leaders and expertise. We have everyone here from education leaders, and educators at all levels, labor leaders, business leaders, lawmakers, elected officials, the bench, the bar, the media. We also have civics and nonprofit organizations, we have law enforcement, we have so many folks here including students who will advance the cause of civic education.”

In her State of the Judiciary address yesterday afternoon, Cantil-Sakuaye outlined a two-pronged approach for our future: 1) work with the Department of Eduction to keep kids in school and out of court and, 2) stimulate the students of today with knowledge of the world around them so that they can then change this world for the better. The first step in all of this was the summit.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who oversaw the implementation of online voter registration (OVR) in California prior to the November 2012 election deadline noted, “We want inspiration and participation to start young and last a lifetime.” She explained that her first experience was when she organized a protest of the “trouser wearing women” in her geometry class. She pointed to 735 California schools that participated in the MyVote Student Mock Election last year as a good way to get students engaged and educated about elections.

Superintendent Torlakson remarked how OVR helped register additional hundreds of thousands of college students during the last election, and that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics website helps prepare young Americans to become knowledgeable, engaged 21st century citizens by creating free and innovative education materials. Justice O’Connor explained that as a young girl she was more interested in ranching than the law, but that bringing people in early is essential to developing lifelong voting and civic participation habits.

The Superintendent also announced the creation of a Civics Learning Taskforce which is meant to take the good learning and energy of this Summit and direct it towards making students are more informed as voters, better informed as consumers and as engaged citizens ready to make our democracy work. Panelists from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000 and the California Chamber of Commerce all verbally committed to supporting this effort.  

From the state legislature several members who have introduced bills in the 2012-2013 legislative session spoke about their efforts.

  • Senator Leland Yee has introduced SB 619 related to civics training for state employees
  • Assemblymember Joan Buchanan introduced AB 137 related to education
  • Senator Marty Block introduced SB 696 related to civics learning objectives in grades 1st through 12th.  

Additionally, students, teachers and principals from three schools were in attendance to receive Civic Learning Excellence Awards from the Chief Justice and Superintendent of Public Instruction:

  • Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Tech Academy in Los Angeles
  • Golden Valley High School in Bakersfield
  • San Marino High School in San Marino

The awards are designed to both celebrate successful efforts to engage students in civic learning and to identify successful models that can be replicated in other schools. The winners were selected by an expert panel, based on the depth and breadth of their civic learning courses or programs. Five schools received Awards of Distinction, and fourteen schools received Awards of Merit which all listed here.

Ms. Diana Ledezma, a student at Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Technology Academy in South Los Angeles who participated in a mock election at her school and then got together with some of her peers and organized a community clean up summed up her experience with civic learning and the goal of the day in general:

“You feel like you have a say in society and that you can actually make a difference”.

Well said, Ms. Ledezma. We at California Forward are encouraged by this collaboration of stakeholders working to educate the leaders of tomorrow about their state, its government and their role in putting us back on track. 


John Guenther

All stories by: John Guenther