On the record

April 9, 2010

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride spoke to a group of Bradley students and faculty Friday afternoon, discussing the importance of staying informed about civic life and the political process.

Kilbride, who was  elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000 after practicing law in Rock Island, Ill., for 20 years, explained that civic awareness in society has been continually deteriorating, particularly in the years since the No Child Left Behind Act.

“In the 1960s, it was the average for high school students to receive three semesters of civics classes,” Kilbride said. “Now, students are lucky to get one. Civics courses are still taught, but they are often taught as electives so that teachers can focus on the subjects covered by No Child Left Behind.

“Many of these school teachers say that they feel they are locked in a box and have to teach to the test.”

Kilbride explained that the problem is not limited to uniformed youth, but that the entire population is facing a civic awareness crisis.  He went on to say far more Americans can name the Three Stooges (74 percent) than the three branches of American government (42 percent).

Kilbride cited research that said students who have a background in civics turn out to be more tolerant of differing opinions, more cooperative with others and more active in elections.

He suggested that one way to combat this general lack of knowledge is to urge students of all ages to become involved in mock trials and moot courts to get a feel for the legal and governmental process.

“I know something like this will never become as popular as Friday night football, but it’s important that people understand the foundation – how our government was founded and how it operates.”

Babe Simkus, a senior communications major, said she thought Kilbride offered a good solution to get students interested.

“I thought it was really interesting how he suggested using topics kids can relate to as a way to get them interested in the way the government works,” Simkus said. “Even if it’s something as simple as the ‘no texting while driving law.’ It gets kids talking about it and they can learn a lot more about how things work as a result.”

The event was presented jointly by Bradley’s Pre-Law Center and its Institute for Principled Leadership and Public Service.

“I think its very important that Justice Kilbride is trying to reach out and explain the importance of civic engagement,” said Brad McMillan, the executive director of the Institute for Principled Leadership and Public Service. “The lack of civic understanding and apathy towards government are directly related. I think if we can work to become more knowledgeable, we will have a more engaged citizenry.”