A program co-sponsored by Founders’ First Freedom and the Byington Center and hosted by Washington Adventist University gave thirteen high school students front-row seats to history this summer.
Thirteen smart, motivated, and very surprised high school students turned up for something completely different this summer at Washington Adventist University – a US Government class where they didn’t just learn about government, they lived it.
Every day a new government leader walked into classroom. And every day it was up to the class to interact intelligently, inquisitively, and to pull out every ounce of understanding they could. They’d need all the help on offer for their roles tackling some of the toughest issues facing our nation. A trail blazer who just left the White House to contribute at CBS News walked in day one, the next, an FBI agent. Over the course the parade of experience and insight didn’t stop. A DOJ lawyer who has litigated some of highest high profile legal battles of our time; a diplomat who has negotiated with some of the most brutal regimes on earth; a rocket scientist who put the Webb Space Telescope in orbit so humans today can see the universe like we never have in history, an attorney who fought his whole career to protect religious freedom, and many more.
Every day a new government leader walked into classroom. And every day it was up to the class to interact intelligently, articulatory, and to pull out every ounce of understanding they could. They’d need all the help on offer for their roles tackling some of the toughest issues facing our nation. A trail blazer who just left the White House to work at CBS News walked in day one, the next, an FBI agent. Over the course the parade of experience and insight didn’t stop. A DOJ lawyer who has litigated some of highest high profile legal battles of our time; a diplomat who has negotiated with some of the most brutal regimes on earth; a rocket scientist who put the Webb Space Telescope in orbit so humans today can see the universe like we never have in history, an attorney who fought his whole career to protect religious freedom, and many more.
At the end of a Federal Court hearing, students were invited to ask the Federal judge questions from the bar where lawyers stand to make their arguments
Every morning, a different student gave worship – their own spiritual insights in their own words. Working in government doesn’t mean forgetting your faith, indeed, you’ll need all the wisdom and perspective you can glean from the Divine if you hope to tackle the problems that beset our world. Remember Daniel, Esther, David, and Deborah?
In the afternoon, the class got busy on the ground, working hard. Whether it was being interviewed by the world’s press at the US Supreme Court when groundbreaking decisions came down, meeting arguably the most powerful man in the US Senate, sitting down at the IRS headquarters with senior executives, walking the floor where NASA constructs its space telescopes, attending a briefing on Capitol Hill, the students were doing everything, everywhere.
And between remarkable lectures and hands-on experiences? The class assumed their responsibilities. The first week, they chose constitutional amendments to debate, were broken into teams, and on Friday, they went to town. Want to know why we should amend the Second Amendment or add parental rights to the Constitution? Want to know why we shouldn’t? The students did a brilliant job laying out the pros and cons, the dangers and hopes, the original intent, and the modern realities. All of it, and more. At the end of each debate, the nonparticipating class members voted on the amendment, thumbs up or thumbs down, and which team did the better job. Because winning an argument doesn’t always mean you win the vote…
If that wasn’t hard enough, the next week, the students were divided in the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, and tasked with cutting $1 trillion from the deficit. “It isn’t possible,” more than one said. The reply from the instructor: “You better make it possible because if you don’t get to deal by Friday, all your grades will suffer. And if the deal favors Republican priorities, the Republican team will get extra points. If the deal favors Democrat priorities, they’ll get the points.”
We aren’t staying past 5 PM.
House passed one version of the bill. The Senate a completely different version. Now one representative each from the House Democrats, the House Republicans, the Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans is hammering out the differences. It’s tense. And as the seconds tick by, it’s getting hotter than the 4th of July. 4:45 PM, the four representatives burst into the classroom, clutching their compromise bill. It’s put up for a full vote. It passes. Everyone cheers. No one is happy. Because no one got what they wanted. Welcome to law-making – it’s as ugly as it is necessary.
In the final week, each student presented on the topic of their choice with a hitch: they included at least one false fact. Why? Because in an age of disinformation, we must become discerning. So, whether the presentation was on a hot-button social issue, modernizing the SNAP program’s IT systems, or funding for space weather, we have to be able to spot spin when we hear it.
So, what happens when learning gets this messy?
“The class was amazing – I’m actually sad it’s over,” beams Bethany Krause, “which is saying something, because I’m voluntarily waking up at 6 AM in summer… there were so many once in a lifetime opportunities – 10 out of 10, I’d do it again!” Moises Velasquez agrees, “what I really liked about the class was that it was hands on. We talked about the government and then we got to see the government.”
“Washington Adventist University is the only Adventist college we could have put on a class like this,” says attorney James Standish who conceived and taught the class. “We’re a short trip to Capitol Hill, the White House, the Supreme Court, and to everyone who works there. If you want to study marine biology, you go to the ocean. If you want to really understand law, civil rights, religious freedom, public policy, and the government? There’s no better place than WAU. From the Model UN to Mock Trial, to classes like the summer US Government class for highly motivated high school students who want to get a head start by earning three hours of college credit, WAU takes learning from talk, talk, talk, to walk, walk, walk. If it sounds terrifying, it is – but it’s also wonderful, amazing and completely unforgettable. I’m so thankful to Founders First Freedom, the Hedrick Family Trust, and the Byington Center for supporting the class, to WAU for a remarkable venue and resources, and most of all to the parents who enrolled their students and the students themselves, who are a truly exceptional group who have great futures.”
Michael Peabody, president of founders’ First Freedom agrees, “We were very glad to be able to sponsor the program this year. We knew it would be great, but James and his team really took the concept of a summer intensive on Capitol Hill to the next level and it surpassed our expectations. We, in turn, are grateful to the Hedrick Family Trust for helping make this and other projects possible through their generosity.”
If you’re interested in taking the US Government class next summer, send a note to: USGovernment2023@outlook.com