WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — On a recent Sunday night, 37 teenagers from Arizona spent spring break eve in a large Washington D.C. hotel conference room. It was orientation night. They joined 200 teens from around the country on a dizzying week of political workshops, museum tours, visits to landmarks, and walking.
Lots of walking.
Many of us have been there. The week-long civics field trip to Washington, D.C., is a rite of passage for young Americans.
But for these kids from Apollo High School in Glendale and Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix, the trip comes during a strange time in America. It just feels more crucial today than during their parents’ generation.
After the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and the January 6th insurrection attempt, America is fragmented and deeply partisan.
Trust in Congress is pitifully low. No surprise there.
But trust in basic institutions and each other is also waning.
A 2022 survey by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics found nearly three-fourths of Democrats and Republicans feel members of the other side “are generally bullies who want to impose their political beliefs on those who disagree.”
We are also, apparently, less tolerant.
A survey by The University of Chicago & the Wall Street Journal found “tolerance for others” was deemed “very important” by just 58% of respondents, down from 80% four years ago.
We can’t even agree on tolerance?
Patriotism is also a lower priority to Americans, according to respondents.
It’s why a program like Close Up, which teaches government literacy in the seat of democracy, is just what America’s youth need.
When I met with the CEO of Close Up, Eric Adydan, he told me The Arizona Cardinals were the first sports franchise to send a plane load of kids to Close Up last summer, the beginning of what Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwill plans to make an annual tradition.
Adydan hopes other franchises follow suit.
“You can go through the 20 years I’ve been at Close Up and the different issues that we’ve had. They’ve always been important at that time,” Adydan said. “And today we have some extremely important conversations that need to be had as well.”
Adydan agrees the weekly ritual of students gathering from various regions of the country is an anecdote to divisions in America.
“Listening to one another in a respectful way is really the only way we are going to make a difference and move forward as a country,” Adydan said.
After I spent a week following these kids (and serving as a chaperone for my alma-mater high school, Apollo), I also agree with Adydan that the next generation has much to offer and “we have a bright future ahead of us.”
The teens had rousing, respectful discussions and showed genuine curiosity and awe for our nation’s rich, complicated history.
“I have kids tell me they learn more in this one week than they do in the classroom in an entire year,” said Sabrina Grader, American History teacher at Apollo, who has brought students for two decades.
Perhaps most importantly, students have face-to-face conversations with Americans of different backgrounds.
“Yesterday, I had a really long conversation with my roommate from Nebraska,” said Brian, a student at Apollo. “It made me more open-minded.”
“It’s what makes our democracy so great. Communicate, even if you are on the left, the right, or the middle,” he concluded.
Can we pack America’s adults into the conference room as well?
Up to Speed
Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.