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Justice O'Connor pushes civics teaching
04:27 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: "It's putting our country at some risk," O'Connor says of declining civics knowledge

Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor founded iCivics in 2009

She announced a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday

Retired since 2006, she was the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court

San Diego CNN  — 

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court after 191 years, is crusading to reverse what she says is an alarming decline in America’s knowledge of democracy and announced an initiative Wednesday to educate children across the country.

Asserting that democracy is not inherited at birth but rather learned in school, O’Connor founded the educational nonprofit group iCivics in 2009 to secure America’s governance and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders.

On Wednesday, O’Connor announced an expansion of that program to include the Boys & Girls Club of America, which has almost 4,000 clubs serving 4.1 million youngsters.

“Many states around the country are no longer teaching or requiring civics education for young people,” said O’Connor, 82. “When I went to school – and that was a long time ago, and I went to school in El Paso, Texas – we had civics almost every year, and in fact, I almost got tired of it.

“But the fact of the matter is that every young person needs to learn how our government works at the national level, at the state level, at the local level and how they can be part of it,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said her website,, was partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs because of its vast network serving youths.

“It’s a very big organization, and I want them to know and use – and they want to know and to use – iCivics because it’s a great activity for young people,” O’Connor added.

O’Connor cited an Annenberg Public Policy Center national survey showing that only one-third of Americans could name all three branches of the U.S. government.

“I can’t believe it,” O’Connor said in in a speech at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s national conference in San Diego on Wednesday.

Then she added: “Two-thirds of Americans can name a judge on ‘American Idol,’ and only 15% can name the chief justice of the United States,” who is John Roberts.

“Civic knowledge can’t be handed down the gene pool. It has to be learned,” O’Connor told the gathering of 2,400 conference attendees.

O’Connor said the American awareness of civics is “on the decline.”

“It’s putting our country at some risk,” O’Connor said.

iCivics offers free curricula and video games in public, private and charter schools in all 50 states and has counted more than 5 million game plays on its website, spokeswoman Kelly Landis said. The 16 video games are designed to teach students about civics, even asking them to play the role of president.

O’Connor was a President Reagan appointee to the Supreme Court in 1981, and she retired from the nation’s highest court in 2006.