Ben Huntington ’20 has some insight on how to ease political polarization – listening.
Huntington was among a group of 26 O’Dowd students who participated in the Close Up government studies program in January, getting a unique opportunity to be immersed in the nation’s capital and Washington politics for one week, hearing a variety of viewpoints from both program speakers and other high school students from around the United States.
“We have all these people living in the United States who think very differently from each other,” he said. “It was great to actually sit down with people who have starkly different views than we do and learn why they think that way and what shaped their views,” he said.
The O’Dowd students were teamed with students from Michigan, Texas, Florida and Georgia, as well as others from California, and engaged in debate about major political and social issues.
Robin Parks ’19 said that although she held different perspectives than other participants on issues “we actually found a lot of common ground in hobbies and interests.”
In addition to participating in lively workshop discussions on timely topics such as raising the minimum wage, universal health care, the opioid epidemic and gun reform, the students met with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, toured Washington, D.C., and visited important monuments. They also spent time in New York City, visiting the United Nations, 9/11 Memorial Museum, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and attended the Broadway show Come From Away.
The most impactful moment for Huntington was participating in the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and hearing Taps played. “It was pretty emotional,” he said.
Huntington’s great uncle was part of the Bataan Death March. He died in the Philippines and his body was never recovered, making him part of the Tomb of the Unknowns. “My grandfather was a flight surgeon in the Navy and they played Taps at his funeral,” he said.
Thousands of O’Dowd students have benefitted from this outside the classroom experience, with many inspired to pursue government-related careers. Social studies teacher Bonnie Sussman introduced the Close Up program to O’Dowd in 1991 – the same year she started teaching at O’Dowd. She ran the program at Presentation High School in San Francisco for ten years prior.
Students currently in grades 9, 10 and 11 can fulfill the required senior American Government course with the Close Up Government class. The class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 7:30-8:15 a.m., and includes the nine-day trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City (dates for next year are January 17-28, 2020). The information packet and application are available online. You can submit applications to Ms. Sussman in Room 201. Act soon as spaces are filling up!