by Karl Kurtz
Our Courts, the online education program about the American court system started by retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has recently broadened its mission to include civic education in general and changed its name to iCivics. From their About page:
iCivics is a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy. iCivics is the vision of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is concerned that students are not getting the information and tools they need for civic participation, and that civics teachers need better materials and support.
I was struck by the name change because a number of years ago I worked with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools on an effort to find a new name for those yawn-inducing, so-1950s terms, "civics" and "civic education." The best "brand" that the PR firm the campaign hired could come up with was "educating for democracy." The campaign adopted that term but hasn't had much success in popularizing it--I think because it's not all that much better than civic education, and no one know what it means.
Now along comes iCivics and embraces the old term, adding a twist to make it young and cool. I admire their audacity in doing this. I find it clever despite my objection to the Apple-inspired practice of putting "i" before a word to try to make it contemporary and marketable. This fad (iFad?) has some of the same language laziness as adding -gate at the end of a word to turn it into a scandal.
At the Trust for Representative Democracy, we've struggled with the same problem of the nine-syllable mouthful, "representative democracy." When we've tested this term in focus groups, young kids not only can't pronounce it, they don't know what it means. We often use the terms "American democracy" or "republic" as substitutes, but we're not any more confident that people know what those words mean.
Maybe we should try iDemocracy or iRepublic.
I'm not at all serious about the idea of re-branding the Trust, but I must say that I was slightly disappointed to google iGov and find that the name is already taken by a military contractor.
Whatever you think of iCivics, you should check out their excellent interactive, online games that teach about American democracy.