President's Message March/April 2014



Educating the Electorate: With a Little Help From My Friends
J. Robert Weisberger, Jr., Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association


Please join me in volunteering just a few hours of time in 2014 to a law related education program and strengthen civics education in Rhode Island classrooms.

On the day I sat down to pen this message, I reflected on the fact that I only had six more months to serve as President of the Rhode Island Bar Association.  What an honor and privilege it has been thus far to serve as president.  I am also cognizant of the tremendous responsibility with which I have been entrusted.  Therefore, with only two messages remaining, I want to use this bully pulpit to advance an important cause and request your help.

Our democracy is so fragile, yet we all take it for granted.  Being a member of the baby boomer generation, I am a product of what has been coined the greatest generation.  I want to do my part to help sustain the democracy for which our forefathers fought and gave their lives, and I want you to do it with me by volunteering just a few hours of your time in 2014 to a Law Related Education program.  There are many important things we do for society as lawyers.  Teaching civics should be one of them!

Our democracy is not self-sustaining.  It requires education, understanding and participation. There has been so much emphasis in the education system in this country on core curriculum and away from civics, that the results are staggering.  For example, according to a 2011 report from the American Bar Association nearly half (45 percent) of Americans are unable to correctly identify the three branches of government, more than half (57 percent) of Americans couldn’t name a single current justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, and out of 14,000 college students, 71 percent of those Americans failed a basic civics test.  Based on my own non-scientific research, naturalized citizens have a greater knowledge of our government than do most citizens who were born here.  Good for them, but shame on us!

In a previous message, I wrote about the importance of teaching civics in our classrooms.  Now I want to ask you to join me in volunteering for one or more of our Bar Association’s law related education programs including: our Bar’s annual partnership with the Rhode Island Judiciary and the other members of the Rhode Island Law Day Committee which puts teams of lawyers and judges together for the Rhode Island Law Day Classroom Presentations and also sponsors the Rhode Island Law Day Essay Contest; our Adult Speaker’s Bureau providing volunteer attorneys, offering legal knowledge on a range of subjects, to non-profit groups and organizations; and our Lawyers in the Classroom program connecting volunteer lawyers to teachers and students throughout the year. I would also like you to consider volunteering for one or more of the law related education programs we support including the Rhode Island Legal/Educational Partnership’s Mock Trial Program, the Rhode Island Judiciary’s iCivics program, and Generation Citizen.

Specifically, I recently received a new request for volunteers from Generation Citizen, a program dedicated to the teaching of civics right here in Rhode Island, as well as in other states.  Generation Citizen needs volunteers to donate just one classroom period to working with students on a civics project.  They are an excellent organization already making a difference, and they have reached out to you, through me, for your help!

For more information and to volunteer for our Bar’s Law Related Education programs and Generation Citizen, visit our Bar’s website at www.ribar.com, go the upper left menu and click on FOR THE PUBLIC, on the dropdown, click on LAW RELATED EDUCATION and browse that area to find out more about our programs and those we support.

If you think this effort is as important as I do, please let me know your ideas for getting the message out to our state’s political and education leaders to strengthen our civics education in our classrooms, not diminish it.  Let’s take up the fight to maintain our democracy against the tyranny of an invisible dictator; the tyranny of our own apathy.  Please help in this effort, before it is too late.  Do it for our forefathers, for our children and our children’s children.

If you want to be a part of the solution, please contact me directly or through the Bar Association. Together, we can make a serious difference through Law Related Education programs!