I was one of twenty Catholic 8th graders who bussed across the country to Washington, D.C. in 1984. It was our class trip, and one of us was Paul Ryan, today the most powerful man in the US Congress.
This 8th grade trip had a lot of influence on me, as it of course had a lot of influence on P.D. (nickname for Paul Ryan as a kid). I’m a policy debate coach, leading publisher of debate curriculum for several forensic leagues, and a teacher who believes in our up-and-coming Millennial Generation. There are pessimists out there who think they’re not worth our investment, but I’m not one of them.
Here’s the reason I bring this up: My daughter Keilah is in Washington, D.C., TODAY with her 8th grade class. She left from Monument Academy yesterday and is on the Close Up tour, an educational tour guide that will be bringing Keilah and her class through the rich heritage of our nation.
Close Up will do just as its name implies: give students a “close up” of our Nation’s Capitol. This afternoon Keilah and her class will be walking the Capitol, and tonight she’ll be participating in mock Congressional debates with students from across the country. The rest of the week they’ll visit the memorials, explore the Capitol, honor the cemeteries, and even take a trip to Philadelphia to get into even more of our nation’s heritage.
Close Up informs, inspires, and empowers young people to exercise the rights and accept the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.
My childhood friend is doing fantastic work in DC. I like to think I do my part to help make this democracy great, too, by inspiring young people to “accept the responsibilities” of America. My alumni have become journalists, activists, and leaders who “exercise the rights” of our citizenry. I see debate as a foundational skill to “inform, inspire and empower young people.”
As crazy as our political theater is today, make no mistake: the United States is still our last best hope. Debate plays a central part in its greatness, creating a dualistic body of government whose representatives clash for the betterment of their citizens. Better laws are passed with debate as a polisher of policy. We may not agree with the laws that are passed, but they are better laws than any law of a dictatorship or king.
This is what Keilah will be learning in Washington this week. Just like Paul Ryan and I learned in 1984 when we traveled to DC with our 8th grade classmates. My hope is that all in Keilah’s class are empowered in their futures.