Grade school civics quiz time: Who can name the branches of American government?
In a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, only 26 percent of adults asked were able to correctly answer that question. That was down from just 38 percent in 2011, the first time the center conducted the survey.
In an effort to combat these kinds of numbers, the New Jersey Supreme Court and the New Jersey State Bar Association started the Benchmark Civics Project, an interactive educational program that trains attorneys to lead public meetings that help fill in the knowledge gaps for adults when it comes to basic questions of how government is supposed to work.
“It’s not about politics, it’s about civics,” said Somerset County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone, who has led many Benchmarks Civics presentations. “It’s about our Constitution and what our democracy is really about.”
Attorneys interested in being trained for the program will have an opportunity at the New Jersey Law Center on Feb. 20. Continuing legal education (CLE) credits are available for the training session, and additional credits may be earned when attorneys go out and lead sessions with community organizations.
Program speakers on Feb. 20 will include Ciccone, former NJSBA President Miles S. Winder, and NJSBA Senior Managing Director of CLE Programming Lisa Spiegel. Winder has been involved with the Benchmark Civics Project since its inception in 2012, and said that it’s not only informative, but fun.
“What we’re trying to do is get people interested, engaged,” Winder said. “We want them to understand how their government works, and why it’s important that we have equal participation in the government between the executive, the legislative and judiciary branches.”
“If we can try and inculcate into adults an understanding of what American government is all about, we’ll have a better American government.”
To learn more and register for the Feb. 20 program, visit http://bit.ly/BenchmarkCivicsNJ.