Bringing the Classroom to Washington, DC

Students with Maryland State Senator Richard Madaleno

Students with Maryland State Senator Richard Madaleno

For Brooks Johnson, experiential learning has always been at the heart of his educational pedagogy. When he taught a history elective on the American Presidency back in 2012, he decided it wasn’t enough to have his students learn about the history and mechanization of the highest office in the land; he brought a presidential candidate to them.  The lively discussion with Mr. Santorum was a banner moment for his students , regardless of how they felt about the candidate’s politics. At the end of the day, Johnson’s goal was simple: could his pupils learn to apply, synthesize, and project what they learned in class onto a real world setting—and, if so, how do they pose those question to a presidential candidate?  

This year, Johnson has done it again and made the political system come alive for his AP Government class, complete with an immersive trip to Washington D.C.  Pairs of students met with non-profits and  organizations in between tours of the Smithsonian, Capitol building, and Natinoal Holocaust museum. Fort many of the seniors on the trip, this was perhaps the catalyst to a lifelong career in politics. Some of their reflections are below. 

“On Tuesday afternoon, we went into the Russel Senate Office Building to meet with New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte. We went into her office and put down our bags and then made our way underground to head to the Capitol. We decided to walk on the side instead of taking the train, but as one of the trains passed us we spotted John McCain in it.

 In the Capitol, the mood was hectic as the Senate was passing the Farm Bill. We entered the Versailles-like Senate Reception Room and sat marveling the gold ornaments for a while before meeting Ayotte. She entered and greeted us, then allowed us to ask questions. Ayotte then  spoke to the women in the group about the imperativeness of women becoming a more vocal voice in the political scene.”

- Peter Dunphy 

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One of the many interest groups in DC that the AP Gov class met with over the Winterfest break was the website ourtime.org. The woman in charge of the website, Johanna Berkson, was not only able to thoroughly explain to us what their website was all about, but how and why they went about achieving their goal. She explained that the absolute ambition of ourtime.org (emphasizing that it’s ourtime.org, since ourtime.com is a dating website,) is to help the younger generation to understand what exactly is going on around them in words that are easier to comprehend than the regular drawl of political speak.

Yet there was one singular thing that Ms. Berkson was aiming for with the whole website, and that was to make registering to vote a relatively simple process, but also get everyone registered to vote who was able to. Though this sounds like a relatively painless process, Ms. Berkson explained that there are many limitations that people must overcome, such as lack of accessibility to proper offices, or lack of knowledge as to how to register, which ultimately prevent thousands from taking the time and registering. Throughout our meeting, it was clear that Ms. Berkson truly just wanted to spark an interest in the American public, that would lead to clear and thoughtful opinions on all sorts of topics, that would contribute to a future that was actually based around the people’s opinion, rather than the few who bother to vote, and who may just vote with popular opinion. All in all, ourtime.org’s message is summed up in the banner that sits at the top of their website “Standing up for Young Americans” and helping them to help themselves.
-Julia Marcou

Get Equal is an organization that fights for full equality under the law regardless of sexuality.  They work closely with people all over the country who face discrimination.  When asked how they affect the legislative process, Heather, the representative from Get Equal, said that by mobilizing grassroots movements around the country, politicians will be forced to support equality for all LGBT people if they want to stay in office.  When the Defense Of Marriage Act was being debated last year, they helped mobilize activists in DC who chained themselves to the white house fence and refused to leave until DOMA was overturned.  Heather claims that this demonstration helped convince President Obama to continue pushing to overturn DOMA. 

-Adam Bloom

 

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