The national debt. It may earn more groans than a bad Seth McFarlane joke at the Oscars, but nothing is more serious to our future. Last week our students put themselves in the place of the Members of Congress charged with solving the fiscal crisis they may well inherit.
On Monday we started with the basics that most students do not learn about in school. What is Medicare? Social Security? How do interest rates work? The Bush-era tax cuts? What is the difference between discretionary and non-discretionary spending? How much do we really give in foreign aid? And how bad is the problem, really? The students then broke down into small groups and reviewed the major elements of the federal budget.
On Wednesday we traveled to two leading think tanks to meet with budget experts there: the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the American Enterprise Institute. Most observers describe CBPP as center-left and AEI as conservative, so the perspectives offered at each organization got students thinking hard about the economic costs and benefits of government involvement, low taxes, entitlements, and more.
This Thursday, the day before the “Sequester” is set to take hold, we will meet with Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI), a moderate Democrat who sits on the powerful House Budget Committee chaired by Paul Ryan (R-WI). Each group will have the opportunity to present a concise summary of its plan and to hear the Congressman’s response. We will be sure to document the results. Special thanks to alum Jonathan Pine (SEGL Spring 2011), who worked in the Congressman’s office following his high school graduation, for organizing the visit. It is great to see graduates making connections on behalf of the school!
This week we also had two special English class visits. On Tuesday, Silver Star winner Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine officer, joined us to connect our reading of Henry V with his military experience. The play is his favorite and influenced the leadership decisions he made in Afghanistan and the battle of Fallujah in Iraq (where he earned his Silver Star). In particular, he spoke on the three traits the play taught him are particularly important: Trust, Vision, and Fortitude. Then on Thursday we walked across the street from our Residential Building to the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Theatre for a rousing performance of Henry V. The Folger is generally considered to be the leading center for Shakespeare studies in the United States–indeed, we read the Folger edition of the play. Following the performance–we had front-row seats–the students were able to ask questions of the actors and compare (among other things) their visions of King Henry to the actor’s.
On Friday, the students took part in an SEGL classic: the Leadership Styles exercise. The students divided themselves up into four classic leadership styles: Driver, Expressive, Analyst, and Supportive. Each group completed the same given task, but ended up with very different results; the ensuing conversation revealed, among other insights, the importance of having each style reflected in any decision making group.
Next up: How can the international community (and the U.S.) help bring developing countries out of poverty without encouraging environmental degradation?