Washington DC

Washington DC

Students better understand the inter-relations between democracy, civil life, and politics within the United States.

Through a blend of structured and unstructured activities and discussions, we reflect on how the various narratives around the nation’s formation serve to alternately reinforce or disrupt our personal understanding of what it means to ‘be an American’.

Students consider the foundational tension between individual freedoms and societal good, analyzing how structural decisions made centuries ago impact choices today.

We delve into the concept of responsibility for one’s country, visiting institutions and actors and prompting students to consider the range of duties entailed by citizenship, including service to one’s country, informed participation in the voting process, and organized demonstration against abuses of power.

Potential Program Themes

Checks and balances: how democracy works
The civil rights movement in our Nation’s capital
Collective memory: monuments, commemorations, and gaps

Sample Itinerary

We begin our time in the nation’s capital with a fast-paced simulation that illustrates the need for checks and balances, prompting students to demonstrate their prior knowledge of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. We then set out on a “first glimpse” of the city, seeking to take in our initial observations and see what “catches our eye”.

On our second day, we examine the mythologies embodied by some of the nation’s prominent historical landmarks, including the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials as well as the Iwo Jima and Vietnam War memorials. In each place, team leaders scaffold students to look for the ‘story behind-the-story’, raising key questions about the dearth of statues of female leaders, the omnipresent security in the ‘land of the free’, and the inequities of wealth on display in the national capital.

We spend the next two days moving between the buildings that house the three branches, filling in gaps in our knowledge and sparking new questions to explore. Our explorations begin at the Capitol building, where a guided tour takes students on a journey through the establishment of the world’s first truly representative democracy. We move between the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall , learning more about the magnificent building housing Congress.

We enter the epitome of the judicial branch, the United States Supreme Court. Students move through the building, noting how the majestic size and rich ornamentation provide a manifest symbol of the Court’s importance as a coequal, independent branch of government. Docent-led lectures provide key information on the judicial functions of the Supreme Court, the history of the Building, and the architecture of the Courtroom.

We complete our move through the three branches with a stop outside the White House, where students have the opportunity to reflect on the most prominent symbol of America’s government for the world.

We continue into Lafayette Square, longstanding focal point for protest groups and political demonstrations due to its proximity to the White House. Program leaders use the context to introduce the possibility of a “fourth branch” of government: public opinion. Students then engage in an informed debate around the relative importance of each branch of government in a variety of different scenarios and the necessity of a system.

Using JFK’s famous exhortation to “ask what you can do for your country” as a guiding theme, we consider the obligations of a citizen to his/her nation.

First on our list is one of the world’s largest office buildings, the immense Headquarters of the Department of Defense known as the Pentagon. During the 1.5 mile walk through the building, our military guides dynamically highlight the respective missions of the five Armed Services branches.

We continue to delve into the concept of service through a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, stopping at notable graves and memorials and learning about the history of the cemetery and the heroes that rest there.

We spend our final day in our travel teams, breaking apart to explore the rich variety of museums surrounding the National Mall. Groups choose between the Newseum, a high-tech museum exploring journalism’s past, present and future, the International Spy Museum, providing an interactive look at the history of espionage, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, chronicling items of popular culture from the nation’s past, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, celebrating the natural world, the National Gallery of Art, housing works from the Western world, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, demonstrating Asian artworks, or the National Museum of the American Indian, dedicated to celebrating the history and culture of Native Americans.

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