I have been blessed to accompany students on class trips to Washington, D.C. for decades. Each time I experience The Capitol with students is uniquely different. This year, my time with the gentlemen scholars of Princeton Academy’s Class of 2019 was as inspiring as ever. Our time together was uplifted by the elemental nostalgia of monuments, memorials and moments. Our young men represented themselves and our school with grace and dignity in sacred spaces, purposefully digesting the themes of leadership and legacy that are at the heart of our D.C. experience.
All that said, this year’s trip to me was marked with a special imperative: we must teach our youth the truth.
The National Museum of African American History & Culture sheds light on “a people’s journey, a nation’s story.” The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum implores us to “never stop asking why.” The Newseum reminds us of the vital role that journalists and photographers play in bringing truth to the masses through the First Amendment. The Vietnam Memorial humanizes the loss of lives with names. As today’s generation deals with the complexities of modern society, we are also forced to grapple with the paradoxes of our history - the Capitol was built by slaves and 12 of our first 18 presidents were slave owners. The Holocaust occurred in plain sight. Less than 50 percent of the countries in our world allow for freedom of speech. The truth must be illuminated.
I know now that much of the history I learned while growing up was biased, not fully true and representing only the perspectives of those who hold power. I know now that true history must be sought out and that to truly learn, we must seek truth with an open heart. This year’s eighth-grade trip revealed to me more than ever just how important it is to begin with the past. The only way we can prevent future generations from committing the errors of yesterday is to inform with veracity and reflect with empathy on those moments that define us. We can honor and pay homage while acknowledging historical shortcomings. Generations will come and go. Reconciliation takes strength. We must learn to condemn injustices like slavery, recognize indigenous peoples, act with moral courage in times of despair like the Holocaust and ensure that we never forget acts of terror like 9/11. In addition, we must have the strength to be aware of what is happening around us today. One hundred years from now, what will future generations point to and ask, “how could they have let that happen?”
According to Hannah Arendt, “the gap between past and future opens only in reflection, whose subject matter is what is absent — either what has already disappeared or what has not yet appeared. Reflection draws these absent 'regions' into the mind’s presence; from that perspective the activity of thinking can be understood as a fight against time itself.” Given the gravity of what we experience on the D.C. trip, it is important that we create space so that we can reflect in real time. Our young men are able to develop Sacred Spaces “on the go” where they can listen, process and grow. This is a powerful competency. Frequently on this trip, we take time to circle up and share our feelings and thoughts about what we have "just seen and experienced." This is key and most necessary in order to solidify the learning, make memorable the moment and allow for feeling to occur. Like mortar between bricks and space between logs, circling up to engage in sacred conversations enables learning to solidify and purpose to ignite. On a street corner, in a lobby, under a tree - the ability of our young men to focus and be present in a moment is genuine and provides me with great hope for the future. I am grateful to the Class of 2019 for engaging with sincerity to make our trip a meaningful success.
John F. Kennedy once said that “children are our world’s greatest resource and our only hope for the future.” There is a reason why the “Washington, D.C. trip” is a rite of passage for eighth graders from across the nation. Paying homage to history and those who made it while acknowledging sometimes deeply uncomfortable truths has a transformative influence during one’s formative years. A sense of historical truth must be instilled in our future leaders, and this is on us, the leaders of today.
- Class of 2019
- eighth grade
- Washington, D.C.