The Loss of an Essential Asset: Closing of the World Affairs Council of Washington, DC

For followers of global and public affairs issues the news of the closing of the World Affairs Council of Washington, DC (WAC-DC) came as a shock in late 2018. Educators in particular benefited greatly from WAC-DC’s 38 years of programming for youth and teachers. WAC-DC was part of a national network of 90 councils around the U.S.

I had the great pleasure of working closely with WAC-DC over the years, starting when I was at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). At USIP, I was the lead on high school education and collaborated often with WAC-DC, especially Amanda Stamp who for many years was the education director. I also served on the education advisory committee. I recommended Amanda’s successor Sarah McLewin to WAC-DC. Sarah had been my student at George Mason University.

For youth, WAC-DC ran summer programs for high school and middle school students. It also sponsored Academic WorldQuest, a competition for high school students that my son participated in. Supported by grants, WAC-DC worked with students and faculty overseas. For teachers, WAC-DC held an annual institute for teachers that I often participated in. Many Washington, DC area educators benefited from the efforts of WAC-DC to improve global education. I’ve linked here, here, here, and here to some of the programs I participated in over the years.

Besides its educational work, WAC-DC was the go to for talks from authors, ambassadors, and policy insiders on issues of the day. Most anyone who published in public affairs at some point was part of a WAC-DC event. This mission to public education was so very important. And these events were always free and open to the public.

Why WAC-DC closed is not something that I have intimate knowledge of, but I suspect, as is the case with all not-for-profits, it was a funding issue. As a public service, WAC-DC was dependent on the generousity of those it served, as well as grants.

The loss is significant. At a time when education in public affairs is more important than ever before, the absence of an objective forum for discussing and learning is critical. And for the Washington, DC area, this is a “black eye.” If there was ever a World Affairs Council that should be in existence and supported, it should be in the Nation’s Capital. What does this say about our commitment to public education at time when studies show a serious deficit in public affairs knowledge among middle and high school youth?

I understand that some of WAC-DC’s activities will be taken up by the National Press Club , but I suspect that relates more to the books talks and public events. I’m unclear though the extent to which the former educational programs will be continued. I see that as a critical mission of WAC-DC’s work. Youth need to be the focus of global education.

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