Newly retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter thinks American schools should rededicate themselves to teaching civics, and he's absolutely correct.
Souter, who in a rare public appearance last week, sounded an alarm about what he called the "dangerous state of civic knowledge" in this country. Souter said a lack of proper civics education represents a threat to judicial independence.
"We know from survey results that two-thirds of people in the United States cannot even name all three branches of the national government," he said. "This is something to worry about."
We've seen that lack of understanding at work many times in the various reactions to unpopular court decisions. Can we fire them? Vote them out? No, because that would erode the independence that represents one of the most vital attributes of the position.
Souter, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1990 by President George Bush and, after nearly two decades on the court, stepped down in June, is now working with a task force in his home state of New Hampshire to bolster civics education in public schools.
Souter properly acknowledges that a people uneducated about government cannot respect the importance of an independent judiciary.
But it goes much deeper than that. An uneducated population cannot fully comprehend the limitations it places on the legislative branch with ill-conceived initiatives, or on the executive branch by holding it responsible for the irresponsible behavior of a polarized legislature.
An uneducated population is susceptible to the propaganda that fills e-mail in-boxes and spews forth from television commercials during election campaigns. An uneducated population doesn't know where to look for the unvarnished facts, and lacks the tools to discern straight talk from persuasion.
Souter's civic-education proposal is a good one. Let's import it to California, and soon.