The Most Important Policy Field Trips Are the Ones I'm Not On

Fridays are always better when they involve policy field trips, don’t you think? This morning, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a floor debate on SB 45, which some of you will remember I wrote about a while back. SB 45 may well pass in the Senate, but it doesn’t have much chance of passing in the House. That doesn’t mean it’s insignificant, though. It is, after all, the first school choice bill to make it to the Senate floor for debate in quite some time. That means yours truly got to sit in on some pretty interesting arguments. We will discuss these arguments in more detail in the near future.

But I don’t want to talk about SB 45 today. In fact, I don’t want to talk about policy at all. Instead, I want to use today’s post to highlight the other young policy explorers at the Capitol.

Every time I take a field trip to the Capitol, the building is absolutely stuffed with little guys and girls who, like me, are excited to see democracy in action. These explorers lean toward the rail in the Senate gallery to get a better look at our state’s leaders, stare wide-eyed as lobbyists and folks with big briefcases rush around, and ask questions of their tour guides. Almost invariably, a couple almost fall over as they stare up at the ceiling.

For those who spend a lot of time at the Capitol, these bright-eyed explorers are sometimes viewed as a hassle. They clog the stairs, block the hallways, and every now and then manage to run smack into someone who probably believes they are far too important to be run into. But we should be careful about looking at these little guys (my people!) as hurdles that must be (sometimes physically) clambered over and worked around in the pursuit of more important business. In fact, I’d like to argue that there is no more important business than introducing our kids to the American system of government.

When I look around at groups of kids touring the Capitol—some of them wearing little ties and doing their best to stand up straight and proud, others struggling just to take it all in—I wonder how many of tomorrow’s leaders I’m looking at. How many future legislators, governors, and justices have I seen? How many activists, teachers, and nonprofit leaders am I watching form right before my eyes? How many of these wide-eyed little tykes will grow into great movers and shakers, military leaders, entrepreneurs, community champions, artists, or scientific pioneers? How many future presidents have I walked right past without knowing?

In many ways, my wild journey into the world of public policy began with simple field trips like these. My early exposures to American government, though I didn’t know it then, planted seeds in me that would continue to grow for many years (or at least would have if I were not permanently five years old). I like to think that one day some of these kids, grown and successful, will look back on these early experiences—experiences that many current adults shrug off as irritations in the larger scheme of the political game—and say, “That is where I got my start.”

As an education community, we’ve spent a lot of time recently talking about differences between academic knowledge and less measurable things like intellectual curiosity, passion, and values. And don’t get me wrong, I still very much believe in the importance of academic knowledge (and yes, the testing of that knowledge). But I also find myself moved by the power of seemingly insignificant events like field trips to the Colorado State Capitol to inspire passionate interest in American democracy, alter life trajectories, and change the state, the nation, and the world. History often turns on a single moment, and I have a distinct feeling that I’ve seen many such moments at the Capitol without even realizing it.

I know, know. Maybe I sound a little maudlin. Maybe I’m just feeling sappy on this sunny Friday morning. But you know what? I don’t care. I found myself particularly inspired and encouraged by my fellow kiddos today, and I wanted to take a few moments to highlight their very cool—and crucially important—field trips instead of talking about mine.

These kids’ field trips are, I think, far more important than mine in the grand scheme of things.