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Re-Imagineering the Future of Civics

The Walt Disney company, and in particular the theme parks, have done an

outstanding job in many areas. They are a go-to source for customer service training. They have unbelievable processes in place to make sure top efficiency (and for my Econ friends, maximum profitability). They also have an unbeatable creative genius when it comes to approaching anything. The word for this creative mechanism is Imagineering. A sneaky combination of the words imagine and engineering. They take the abstract and create concrete, the inconceivable into reality.

America presently sits in perhaps the biggest civics lesson of this generation. There is so much to be captured: levels of government, government overreach/under-reach, freedom of speech, protests, and so much more. In response to COVID-19, there is an all-hands-on-deck response from local mayors to the president of the United States. In a recent interview with the executive director of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, I remarked that—at least in Georgia—this has been a time for local governments to shine.

Governors are being scathed for not enacting isolationist views soon enough or for resuming daily life too soon. Quite frankly, there is no good answer there—and there is no win-win scenario. While I do not claim to be an economist, I do know that the American economy is under severe stress and needs relief. What the prescription for that relief is, I do not know. Local governments are taking unprecedented actions by legislating curfews and shelter-in-place orders. The president remarked (in error) that it was he, not the governors, who would decide when things can open back up.

The good news? This, too, shall pass. One day, this strange time in our land will be remembered only as we tell the stories to our grandchildren as they sit on our lap. The question at hand to me is “what’s next?” We’ve seen what has worked well, what systems have been challenged, and where there was outright failure.

In a recent (4/23/2020) article in Education Week, it was reported that student knowledge in history remains dismal and that their knowledge in civics remains flat. In other words, students are not proficient in these important subjects. How does a country sustain its identity when its children do not know who she is? Again, I pose the question, “what’s next?”

While the pandemic has been a terrible time in many aspects, it has been a good “hard reset” button that allows us to take stock of what works and doesn’t. Now with nearly 25 years of data, I think it is safe to say that our current path is not working. This gives us an opportunity to ‘Re-Imagineer’ the next generation of social science—and more specifically civic education.

For the last decade, I’ve been seemingly the lone voice calling foul on the status quo. Today’s students are digital natives, they are tech savvy—and they expect (and deserve) more than lectures and worksheets. Let me be clear, this is not an indictment on educators—they are heroes. However, they are often stuck in red tape. This is the time to engage students in experiential civics. The time is now to take a hands-on approach to the curriculum.

That is the very reason, the Georgia Center for Civic Engagement is investing resources in developing both curriculum and support resources to assist educators move in that direction. Realistically, we know that not every student in Georgia can make it to their state capitol, but they should understand its importance, experience its grandeur, and attach lessons to a place. That’s why we developed a virtual tour of the State Capitol: We have plans for additional tours as well. These are cool, and allow for self-discovery, but we are also developing an online platform to engage students and develop their civic knowledge and civic identity. It’s time to Re-Imagineer our approach—and we’re happy to lead the way in Georgia.


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