- Outside the Classroom
- Upper Division
Recently I had the privilege of joining our 11th graders on a four-day class trip to our nation’s capital. These kinds of experiential trips give our students an opportunity to expand their minds and view life from a different perspective.
While walking on the National Mall, we reflected on being in the center of the most powerful nation in the world, thinking about issues such as power, suffering, veneration, and the arts. We reflected on the notion of power — what it means to be an individual in a democracy. We further discussed whether as a democracy it makes sense to venerate past leaders in the way they are honored on our National Mall.
We visited museums including the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and the American Holocaust Museum. The irony that the weekend before a Holocaust survivor had been murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue in modern America for being Jewish was not lost on any us. The topic for that evening’s reflection was based on signage that we saw at the Holocaust Museum. One of the signs had a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “This museum is not an answer, it is a question.” Another sign read: “What is your question?" We took those signs as inspiration to discuss our questions after a day at the museums.
One of the evenings, we participated in what is dubbed a “Street Torah” program, where we interacted with Washington, D.C.’s homeless population. We brought them food and clothing and attempted to engage them in conversation. It was a mixed blessing that we didn't encounter too many homeless people. Regardless, the students found it to be a valuable experience.
On our final day, we received a private tour of the Capitol arranged by Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman. We got to see all of the public parts of the Capitol Building. One highlight was the former Supreme Court room where the landmark Dred Scott decision was made. Later, we saw Sheer Madness, a comedy who-done-it, at the Kennedy Center. After the show, we had a private audience with one of the actors who happened to be a friend of our Upper Division teacher Miriam Singer.
Experiential Learning is about many things. It is certainly about community — having fun and bonding as a class. But it is also about curiosity — pushing one’s intellectual boundaries in a way that is just not possible in a traditional classroom. Our trip to Washington, D.C. this year was certainly able to accomplish both of those things.