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2019
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10:03 PM
America/Chicago

President's Page: Doing even better together - The Missouri Bar and civics education

Vol.75, No. 2 / March - April 2019

By Ray Williams, 2018-19 Missouri Bar President[1]

March - April Issue, Journal of The Missouri Bar

Williams, Ray“[The] advancement & diffusion of Knowledge . . . is the only Guardian of true liberty.”James Madison [2]

As we approach the 75th anniversary of The Missouri Bar this June, it is worthwhile to acknowledge and reflect upon our unified bar’s important role in civics education during those 75 years. Civics education remains an important component of The Missouri Bar’s long-range strategic plan, and there are more than a dozen Missouri Bar programs offering citizenship education.[3]

[O]rdinary citizens must know – and be able to understand – the law of the land.”[4] A lack of civic knowledge undermines “this bedrock feature of the rule of law.”[5] As Thomas Jefferson noted, “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; . . . whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”[6]

Throughout its history, The Missouri Bar has worked to provide civics education tools to the educators of Missouri. The Summer Institute brings Missouri teachers together and provides them with tools and strategies for more effective civics education in our local classrooms. In addition, newly created regional meetings across Missouri draw teachers together in groups to exchange ideas and learn about civics education strategies. Through participation in this program, 200 teachers per year will be better equipped to educate thousands of students in our local communities.

In addition, The Missouri Bar directly reaches the citizens of Missouri with such programs as the Speakers’ Bureau, which is available to provide law-related programs to civic groups across the state. The new “Is it Legal to . . .” podcast series offers the public a better understanding of our judicial system and basic legal matters, such as divorce, auto accidents, and the operation of Missouri courts. For many years, The Missouri Bar has distributed information brochures covering a variety of legal topics, including probate law, business law, family law, and consumer law, to the public statewide through law offices, courthouses, and public libraries. All these materials are now available directly to the public at MissouriLawyersHelp.org.

The Show Me the Constitution project allows students from across Missouri to hone their communications skills while developing an understanding of essential constitutional concepts in the context of mock congressional hearings. More than 100 students participated in the 2018 competition, and the program continues to grow in popularity.

All these important programs share one overarching goal: an even better-educated citizenry with a better understanding of our government, courts, and the rule of law. “[I]f citizens do not grasp how the judicial system works, a great many court decisions will seem arbitrary, opaque, and unfair.”[7] Many American citizens reportedly can neither name the three branches of government nor describe their inter-relationship and operation.[8] “Just as citizens must understand that the judiciary is empowered to `say what the law is,’ they must also understand how state and federal lawmakers enact laws in the first place.”[9]

While it remains axiomatic that the legislature makes the law, the executive enforces the law, and the judiciary interprets the law, a democratic society requires a knowledgeable citizenry as its foundation. “To protect against government caprice, we must understand our Constitution, our government, and our laws.”[10] “Civic education is thus deeply rooted in the history and culture of America.”[11]

The Missouri Bar remains steadfastly committed to providing civics education opportunities to all our fellow citizens and supplying educational opportunities to the teachers of our state, as “[t]he reward of esteem, respect and gratitude [is] due to those who devote their time and efforts to render the youths of every successive age fit governors for the next.”[12]

Endnotes

1 Raymond E. Williams is an attorney with Williams Law Offices, LLC in West Plains.

2 Letter from James Madison to George Thomson (June 30, 1825) (from the collection of James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859, Library of Congress.

3 See Missouri Bar Strategic Direction. Goal 2 provides that “[a]ll Missourians have access to ongoing civics education.”

4 Sandra Day O’Connor, Forward: The Rule of Law and Civic Education, 67 SMU L. Rev. 693, 694 (2014).

5 Id.

6 Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price (Jan. 8, 1789), https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-14-02-0196).

7 O’Connor, 67 SMU L. Rev. at 696.

8 Id.

9 Id. at 697.

10 Id. at 699.

11 Id.

12 Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Hugh L. White, et al. (1810), in 12 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 388 (Andrew A. Lipscomb & Albert Ellery Bergh, eds, Memorial ed.).