With the new term of my favorite branch of the federal government starting up on the traditional “First Monday” in October, I started thinking of a few court-related topics I could share, specific cases worth explanation, etc.
Unfortunately, as I test-drove a few ideas through subtle conversation with colleagues at lunch, I realized that some key points seemed to be missing from my co-workers knowledge of, well, government. This led me to start wondering about what we really teach about government and civics to school kids. I took a gander at the curriculum break-down and exam percentage for AP Government and Politics, and I was shocked to see how much focuses on the politics vs. the government. It’s no wonder people feel like only lawyers can understand the court when even an AP course clearly isn’t giving much love to the third branch. Honestly, I’m not completely convinced they’re really giving the right kind of love to the other two branches either.
I know Sandra Day O’Connor has spoken about the failings of government and civics education across the country, and she helped found iCivics.org to provide resources to address this gap. But how bad is it? Do people understand the difference between a law and a regulation? Do people really understand the difference between an appeals court and a trial court? What a common law system means? What really happens when a case makes it to the Supreme Court? Or how cases make it there? If I say “stare decisis” will they give me a blank look?
I’m more than a little afraid that the answer to most of those questions is pretty negative. Which leaves me with another question: am I being overly lawyer-y in my concern that a large portion of the population may not “get” this?