Connecting the Court to the Community: Civics Education
In January 2009, Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote to California civics teachers, “Despite the diligent efforts of schools and our courts, research about perceptions of the courts has shown that public knowledge about the judicial branch of government, generally, and about the courts, in particular, needs improvement.” The Chief Justice was writing to interest the teachers in a program called California On My Honor
, which was created to address these concerns.
California On My Honor is a statewide collaboration between the Administrative Office of the Courts
and California State University San Marcos
. The program started in San Diego in 2006 and was opened to teachers statewide in 2007. California On My Honor presents institutes and workshops for teachers of grades kindergarten through 12 with a focus on civics education, especially as it relates to the judicial branch.
Summer institutes, held in San Francisco and San Diego, provide professional development for teachers, using research-based methods, innovative technology, and visual and performing arts in civics education. During the five-day program, attendees collaborate with colleagues to develop new civics curricula. In addition, participants increase their knowledge of the role and operations of the courts with the help of participating judges and attorneys. Each institute includes a visit to a superior court courtroom to witness the judicial process in action. Participants field-test their curricula in their classrooms in the fall and reconvene in San Francisco to reflect on lessons learned and visit the California Supreme Court.
The one-day Court Connections Workshops, held in superior courts throughout the state, are led by experienced teachers who are also leaders from the institutes. Teachers learn about resources and programs provided by their local court and other law-related personnel in their communities, as well as resources available on the web.
The institutes and workshops assist teachers in developing innovative ways to interest their students in civics. The teachers also learn more about the judicial process and the courts—knowledge they can then pass on to their students. The aim is to ensure that every child in the state receives a quality civics education and that students and the public are better informed about the role and operations of the state court system.
LEADERSHIP GROUP ON CIVICS EDUCATION AND PUBLIC OUTREACH
In 2007, the Judicial Council created the Commission for Impartial Courts (CIC) with the goal of keeping the courts free from political influence. In 2010, the Implementation Committee of the CIC presented to the Judicial Council two high-priority recommendations from the CIC’s final report. These two recommendations provided for (1) the appointment of a branchwide public outreach leadership group and (2) focused and coordinated judicial branch advocacy for improving civics education in the K–12 curriculum. The committee emphasized the importance of the judiciary taking a leadership role in civics education through the appointment of a leadership group.
The Leadership Group on Civics Education and Public Outreach was created by the Judicial Council in response to these recommendations. The purpose of the group is to protect the impartiality of the courts and increase access to justice by enhancing the understanding of the role the courts play in our democratic system. The initial focus of the group has been on civics education for California kindergarten through high school students, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for students to learn about the judicial branch.