Representing America: Learning by Doing

By Jordan Waddell September 13, 2016

Fortunately, we live in a country that allows the general public to be actively involved in multiple levels of government. Unfortunately, there can be a lack of interest and frankly knowledge about candidates and issues, especially among young people. These young people are the future of our nation and it is our responsibility to educate and invigorate their desire for active citizenship. This idea of becoming civically engaged is especially important since we are electing a president this year. Citizenship Washington Focus is not only a program that has helped many youth learn about national issues and government processes, it’s a program that teaches youth how the government works by allowing them to learn by doing.

Delegates at Citizenship Washington Focus assume the role of representatives participating in the legislative process. Issues currently relevant to the country are thrown at them to discuss, this year the issues included hydraulic fracturing, campaign financing, cell phone data encryption, and GMO labeling. The delegates are divided into groups where they meet new people and discuss the issues, formulating arguments for or against one of the topics. Within these small groups, delegates who have less knowledge on the topics are able to learn more through delegates that are directly affected by the issue. Oftentimes the delegates have to challenge their own thoughts about an issue and create an argument for the opposition. This allows them to learn valuable skills about debating, but also opens their minds to ideas and situations that are new and thought provoking; allowing for deeper understanding of how and why issues are so complex. These ideas and arguments are presented like they are on Capitol Hill, in the form of bills.

Many are familiar with the classic Schoolhouse Rock song, “I’m Just a Bill,” which educates youth about the life of a bill; however, by actually sitting down, writing bills, and watching as the bills travel through a mock House of Representatives, delegates are able to participate in the process. As part of the process, the bills are brought before all of the delegates at a Mock Congressional Session, which is planned and run by delegates attending Citizenship Washington Focus. Everyone is given a chance to ask questions, debate, and vote on the proposed bills. Many delegates admit to initial disinterest in the bill writing workshops, but by the end of Congressional Session admit to genuinely enjoying the discussion of complex issues and learning to compromise.

While participating in their own mock legislative process, delegates at Citizenship Washington Focus are also able to see the actual legislative process in action and meet their own representatives on Capitol Hill. During these experiences, delegates have conversations with their representatives, explaining how they are becoming civically engaged at the 4‑H Center and discovering more about the jobs of our Congressmen and Congresswomen. Delegates also have the opportunity to question their representatives about problems in their states and what actions are being taken at a national level to combat the problems. During this past year’s session of Citizenship Washington Focus, a GMO labeling bill was working its way through the Senate and House. This allowed delegates to become educated about how industry and agriculture would be affected by this developing bill, which could personally affect the 4‑H’ers that had agricultural backgrounds.  As the delegates watched the action unfold on the floors of the House and Senate, they witnessed compelling arguments as well as unexpected protests and drama.

Overall, delegates seem to enjoy the experiences that Citizenship Washington Focus has offered for the past 58 years. From learning about the origins of law and order to discussing bills on their own “House floor”, I have personally seen unsurmountable growth within delegates, not only in their passion for civic engagement but also their speaking and leadership abilities. I saw this growth within a one-week period, I can only imagine what these civically engaged youth will continue to do. Citizenship Washington Focus is yet another example of how 4‑H grows true leaders. 

Mark Miller

CWF PA 2016