By SRC Staff
Vol. 1, No. 4, 1979, pp. 22
“Alienation is real, and it’s growing! Citizens, young and old, and of varied political persuasions are expressing more and more their feelings of separation from government and politics they feel disenfranchised. They want to improve conditions and help solve governmental and political problems, but they don’t know where to begin.”
So stated Marion Gonzalez, administrator of Georgia Close Up, a year-round, state-wide organization, funded by the Metropolitan Foundation of Atlanta, that is attempting to address itself to filling this void by providing programs in state government education for high school students in Georgia.
The organization’s mission, according to Gonzalez, is to formulate and implement programs which provide high school students with opportunities to study state and local government processes, politics and issues – in depth and “close-up.” Their activities include panel presentations, keynote speaker addresses, interviews with individuals in government, public interest groups and media and topical discussions with staff members. The “close-up” program emphasizes participation, questioning, research and involvement by participants. All issues, Gonzalez says, are presented in a multi-partisan fashion and students are encouraged to fully explore all aspects of issues presented during programs. These issues, she reports, consist not only of specific items such as ERA, prison reform, tax reform, etc., but also include more indepth, humanistic examinations of why these issues are important, the historical development of our government ideologies and why people accept or reject them, the processes and problems involved in attempting to effect change or avoid changes in government laws and processes, and a host of other “valueoriented” items for thought.
A recent program of the project was the Georgia Close Up Workshop, conducted from October 5th through December I. Thirty students, grades 10-12, were selected from approximately 120 state-wide high school nominations. Students met in the Sheraton Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta where they were housed during the live sessions.
They studied the following issues: (I) Tax Reform; (2) Mental Health; (3) Education; (4) Prison Reform; (5) ERA; (6) the Death Penalty; (7) Abortion; (8) The Effect of the Media on Government and Public Opinion; (9) Marijuana Reform; (10) Students’ Legal Rights; (11) Civil Rights; (12) State Budgeting; (13) Federalism; and (14) Georgia’s relations with other countries.
Speakers on these issues included government officials, both elected and appointed, representatives of public interest groups and organizations of all kinds. Among them were: Dave Benner, Office of Planning and Budget (Prison Allocations); Clint Deveaux, president, ACLU of Georgia (Civil Liberties and Social Reform); Rick Reed, Clearinghouse on Georgia Prisons and Jails (Prison Reform); Pat Malone, Department of Human Resources (Health); Fred Broder, Georgia Association of Educators (Education in Georgia); Dr. Charles King, Urban Crisis Center (Human Interaction and Race Relations); and Wes Sarginson, Channel 2 T.V. News (Prison Conditions).
In order to allow other students throughout Georgia the opportunity to benefit from their experiences, the workshop participants prepared articles for publication in a loose-leaf type handbook to he published and made available to schools throughout the state, at the option of local educators. The booklet consists of issues on civil liberties, education, energy and budgeting. The reading level of the handbook is geared toward 8th and 9th graders in order to broaden their knowledge and spark their interest now in preparation for tomorrow.
According to Scott Smith, one of the students in the program from Open Campus West in Tucker, Georgia Close Up has given him a fighting opportunity to challenge others in the field of social sciences. “It has enabled me,” he says, “to push for reforms, information and issues I never before had the chance to grasp.” Shawn Turk of Collins High School in College Park says that she feels the program will continue to aid her in school long after it is over. “It has shown me ways to do research, compile materials, group leadership, different types of problem solving methods and how to arrange speakers,” she said.
The staff of Georgia Close Up is interested in responding to inquiries about their recent programs and discussing their plans for the future. In addition to Gonzalez as administrator, the staff includes Hilton Smith as director and Sandy Mershon as staff assistant. Write to : Georgia Close Up, 165 Walker St., S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30313. (404) 586-0947 or 586-0007.