TALLAHASSEE – In the May 2016 issue of the Florida
Bar Journal, Justice R. Fred Lewis wrote an article addressing his
dedication to educating students on the importance of democracy and the legal
system, and how his Justice Teaching program has become a success in Florida.
Lewis explained that he visited three different public schools in
1999 and discovered how uninformed the students were about the legal system,
the Constitution and the importance of civic duties.
“From those visits, however, it became readily apparent that
our students demonstrated a concerning lack of civic competence, although it
was not at all attributed to a lack of interest or effort on the part of our students,
teachers and schools,” he wrote. “The truth is found in understanding that a democracy
is not hereditary. Rather, it must be crafted for, and imparted to, each
Lewis further argued that the preserving a democratic way of
life can only be accomplished through knowledge, which also cannot be achieved
“A citizenry that understands the value of a democracy will
be the force that determines the future of our nation, not the demagogues who
appeal to the popular desires and prejudices of the moment,” he wrote. “With
these tenets in mind, and with a desire to guard the constitutional liberties
fought for so vigorously by our founding fathers, I realized that our students
required and deserved civic education conveyed through relatable, real-life
Based upon Lewis’ philosophy and past experiences with students, when he became chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court in 2006, he created Justice
Teaching, an initiative that would place a judge or attorney volunteer with
every public school in Florida.
“These dedicated members, who shared my vision, worked to
increase awareness about Justice Teaching within legal and educational
communities at the local level,” he wrote. “Soon after the creation of Justice
Teaching, hundreds of schools were paired with a volunteer. By 2008, we had
covered every public school in Florida with very few exceptions, and the
response to Justice Teaching was so positive that we expanded the initiative to
Lewis explained that Justice Teaching is going on 10 years.
"Our success is
reflected in the thousands upon thousands of students who have participated in
these hands-on programs and better understand our governmental structure, why
our nation exists, how it was formed, and the functions of the three branches
of government that were designated by our forefathers so our country would have
“It is my hope that the reach of Justice Teaching will
continue to fulfill the highest goal for our nation, which is to have a
well-informed citizenry that can operate and maintain the government structure
that has been established for the past 230 years, and also possesses a full and
healthy recognition of the individual liberties that date as far back as Magna
Carta,” he wrote.
Lewis also explained that a non-partisan approach is
imperative to Justice Teaching.
“Justice Teaching volunteers are trained to recognize the critical importance
of presenting sessions in a nonpartisan, objective manner,” he wrote. “The
sessions are designed to prepare students to think through complex scenarios
using critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning. As a result, students have
an opportunity to explore constitutional issues in an open, neutral environment
as they reflect upon the issues that impact their lives.”