DHS Close Up Students Touring D.C.

DHS teacher Chris Billingsley writes in…

The Decatur High School Close Up students are having a great time in Washington, D.C. Wednesday’s “Capital Hill Day” was a lot of work but the kids enjoyed themselves and learned a great deal. The students took a tour of the Supreme Court, the Capital, met with staff from John Lewis and Saxby Chambliss offices, and had a seminar at the Heritage Foundation. On Thursday, students will tour Mt. Vernon and the Newseum. On Friday, students will lay a wreath at the Korean Memorial (dedicated to Edward R. Ravenel, Class of 1943, Charles Jackson, Class of 945 and Gene S. Blough, Class of 1948. The students will end the trip taking a tour of the White House and Arlington Cemetery.

If you have any information you would like to share concerning these students, please reply [email protected]

63 thoughts on “DHS Close Up Students Touring D.C.”


  1. I hope there’s a way for Mr. B to stay involved with Close Up even after he retires. Yay, kids! Yay parents who helped the kids earn their way to Washington! Yay, Mr. B. and whatever adults went with him!

  2. I wonder what these kids were taught by the Heritage Foundation? I can understand a visit to their US Congressman and US Senator – who are from both parties – but a far right wing political group like the Heritage Foundation?

    1. Thanks Mr. Marty. I tried to set up a meet and greet with the Center For American Progress but they did not respond to my request for a meeting. As for the Heritage Foundation being a “far right wing political group” I can’t say but our students are smart enough to figure these things out. Some of the students were excited to visit John Lewis’ office, others excited about Senator Chambliss’ office, and some were very excited to visit the Heritage Foundation. I guess you can call these meetings part of the marketplace of ideas.

      1. I have no problem with them visiting a Washington think tank. I’m just curious what Heritage discussed with our high school students. Did they discuss how they believe same sex marriage is a threat to religious freedom? Or that poor people in America don’t really need any help – after all – they have things like televisions and microwaves? Or maybe they discussed how they came up with the idea behind Obamacare prior to Obama actually getting it passed, whereupon they now oppose it? Or maybe it was just a non-partisan, non ideological presentation on how lobbying in Washington works. I don’t know. I really am curious as to what was discussed?

  3. I don’t see what’s wrong with a visit to the Heritage Foundation. Just because it is not aligned with most of our political and ideological views means we should hide it from our students? If anything visiting a conservative think tank can be more beneficial to our students than visiting a liberal think tank such as Brookings or the Urban Institute. Exposure to the opposing values and ideology that our children grow up with in the Decatur “bubble” is an opportunity for the students to even further understand why they believe what they believe.

    1. What disturbs me is the absence of balance. If partisan organizations are to be part of the experience on this trip, then more than one perspective should be represented or none at all. Otherwise, there’s a strong message of sanctioning one perspective over another, which I don’t think high school students are necessarily sophisticated enough to suss out and look beyond. Some are, no doubt, but others aren’t. (BTW, I think the notion that Decatur is some kind of liberal bubble is a bunch of nonsense. I’ve encountered as many people with conservative viewpoints here as anywhere, and I’ve lived and worked in lots of places around the country.)

      1. Something’s wacky….the above comment from “undefined” is from me. I tried to edit it, to add appreciation to whoever took the kids on this trip (crazy, but glad somebody’s willing to do it!), adn it changed the signature.

      2. I doubt the short meeting balanced out the years of liberal viewpoints force fed to the students of CSD, b/c the schools sure as hell don’t teach the opposing view.

    2. Did not realize that bigotry, and actively working against civil rights for all, was considered a value.

    3. Chris and others:
      As a parent of a child at DHS, I am extremely opposed to having our children visiting the Heritage Foundation without a visit to group working from other side, like the Center For American Progress. In my opinion the Heritage Foundation’s history has been very destructive of traditional American values that I hold! It would be great for our future leaders to hear the debate, but I am afraind all they may get from the Foundation is ideological rhetoric.

      1. If you are adamantly opposed to the Heritage Foundation, then the “American” views you hold are not traditional. I am not agreeing with everything they say or do, but they have it right on certain matters.

        By the way, if you aren’t exposing your children to both sides of the spectrum and letting them figure it out for themselves, you are not educating them. You are indoctrinating them. They are your children are you free to do that if you choose, but don’t kid yourself and believe you are educating them. I tend to lean towards the right (shocked, I know), but I want my children to hear all sides of the argument. (In my mind, hearing the opposing view only bolsters my position. Unlike you, I am not afraid of letting my children learn about the other side. Why is that exactly?)

        BTW, I would bet my left arm that if the students had visited only a liberal think tank, you wouldn’t be so “outraged” and sure as hell would not have felt compelled to comment about it here and demand they visit a conservative think tank also. Hypocrisy, plain and simple.

        1. The comments here questioning the class trip itinerary have, without exception, advocated exposure to multiple viewpoints. And until your post, nobody raised their voice or directly criticized anybody else’s perspective, even though several of us obviously hold wildly contrasting opinions. Why do you want to try to wind people up?

          1. I am not trying to wind anyone up. I just don’t believe some of them truly want exposure to both viewpoints. What they mean is that if the students visit a conservative think tank, then they must also visit a liberal think tank. However, if they had visited only a liberal think tank, I don’t think we would be having this discussion b/c noone would have said a thing about it.

            My children also attend the CSD, and I don’t think it is appropriate at all that a vocal segment of the parents attempt to quash any attempt to expose the children to a conservative point of view.

            My personal point of view – I think it is wonderful the students visited DC, and that trip included a visit to a think tank, and I don’t really care which one. Think tanks are a part of politics and help shape the ideology of both parties, and visiting one gives the students a more complete picture of how things work in our nation’s capital.

            1. DawgFan, I think you make a valid point, I just wish you could do it without being so dang condescending. You single-handedly diagnosed someone’s parenting style based on a single comment and then used yourself to show the proper way to parent. A little less of a broadbrush and a little humility would go a long way. And if we’re going to use “indoctrinate” so loosely, I’m sure there are plenty of ways that all us parents do it to our kids in ways we aren’t always aware. We all have innate biases and tendencies that we pass on to our kids in our less pragmatic moments.

              But maybe I’m trying to indoctrinate you to be more respectful of your fellow commenters.

              1. Not my intent to be condescending, and I certainly wasn’t judging anyone based on their parenting choices for their children. People can and should raise their children as they see fit (before someone paints that comment with too broad a brush, let me add the caveat “unless they are endangering their children”). But, when they try to impose their beliefs on my children, I speak up. And, I believe this staunch opposition to a short visit to a conservative think tank as part of a learning trip designed to illustrate the inner workings of our capital is such an instance. It isn’t like Mr. B asked the Heritage Foundation to form his lesson plans for every Friday’s class. Not even close.

              2. Just re-read my post, and perhaps I shoudn’t have used the second person in the second paragraph of my initial response. My comments about education vs. indoctrination weren’t directed at any one person or group of people, and I was only trying to express my philosphy on the subject in general. Apologies.

                1. Dawgfan- Awww… Sometimes I want to scruff your head and sometimes I just want to grab you by the scruff… this time, I’d like to give you a scruff, a hug, and tell you I’m nodding along to pretty much all that you said. :0)

                  ( *I’d be riled if Mr. B hadn’t tried to bring in both viewpoints, but he did. His job is to chaperone and educate kids, not wrangle think tanks into acknowledging requests. Folks should be fussing at Center For American Progress for blowing the chance to make a good impression on soon-to-be voters.)

        2. “If you are adamantly opposed to the Heritage Foundation, then the “American” views you hold are not traditional.” — sez you

        3. Dog Fan: Have you quoted me accurately? This is not the first time I have noticed that you like to misquote and exaggeration to make your point.

  4. Mr B. treats all students and subject matter equally. The fact that he has done these trips annually and VERY publicly supports ALL students from JROTC to the LGBT, those who watch Fox and those who watch CNN, has a room full of walls of newspapers conservative to liberal, and took his students to Obama’s inauguration regardless of whether they were conservative or liberal, speaks volumes about how he treats ALL issues.

    I am sure that he would be happy to share with us what they learned at the Heritage Foundation along with everything else during the trip. Just ask when he returns.

    And please give these kids more credit. They are smart, engaging, excited young kids who are voluntarily taking a trip they worked really hard for and with someone whom they respect and love dearly. How many kids never have an opportunity like this?

    I think things that cause our children to critically think about ALL sides of ALL issues is what makes CSD so great. The fact that only 1 of the 2 organizations responded is what it is and sometimes you can’t see and do everything you want to do- we have all been there. I think tarnishing this trip by questioning his motives doesn’t do justice to the passion and interest he instills in his students.

    Going anywhere that challenges one’s belief system results in growth, character and conviction – which it sounds like we all want.
    While I understand why you would want to know what they learned, I think it is equally as important to look at all of the sides to this opportunity and see that experiences yield discussion, thought, and reflection; which we as adults should seek to practice.

    A trip like this is one of the things that makes Mr.B a great teacher and a fair man.

    1. Libby, I do agree with you on a couple of points, the kids worked hard to get there and should be incredibly proud of themselves. I don’t think anyone is trying to tarnish their achievements, they were well earned. I would have been over the moon to visit the Capital or the Supreme Court, at that age when I was too young to be jaded and just old enough to really appreciate it. But… the Heritage Foundation has a reputation for distortions, and discrimination, and I don’t think that should be ignored either. That’s all.

      1. “the Heritage Foundation has a reputation for distortions, and discrimination”
        *************************************************

        And thank God the same cannot be said of the folks at the Capitol and the Supreme Court!

        1. I guess that’s as true as anything considering Justice Thomas and Scalia dined with folks from a firm arguing in front of them over the healthcare bill, and both attended Koch events shortly before the Citizens United ruling. Of course, when I typically think of Justice Thomas, the Coke I tend to think of first, isn’t the one that starts with a K. Luckily, his lovely bride forgives Anita.

  5. Having the students visit the Heritage Foundation was a BAD IDEA, without some counterbalancing visit with a liberal organization. The Center for American Progress is not the only name in the phone book, you know. And, I agree with smalltowngal that Decatur is by no means a liberal haven.

  6. True, but in life we don’t always have the option of experiencing both sides and I think it’s a great opportunity for us to teach our kids to manage that and process that. I think this is being made into something it is not and I for one, want my kids to experience as much as possible, right/left and otherwise.

  7. Let’s not turn this topic into a political discussion and lose sight of the efforts behind this great opportunity. Balance in regard to ideology presented is great, but pulling off this mind-expanding trip had, I’m sure, many logistical/scheduling challenges. It could have gone the “other way” just as easily. I would like to add my praise to Mr. B and all of the students and parents that worked all school year to make this happen. Talk politics over at Free For All Friday instead.

  8. I seriously doubt the kids’ visit was of sufficient time for an “indoctrination,” regardless of ideology. To me, the real value of their visit was the opportunity to see our political system — warts and all — in practice, which includes seeing how think tanks are typically machines that turn monied interests into position papers used to influence public opinion. On both sides of the aisle.

    That’s not saying it’s a good system. Just that kids should understand how issues get shaped so they can, if they choose, develop the necessary filters when framing their own opinions. The only value of visiting both a left and right think tank would be its confirmation that money plays both sides of the table.

      1. Yes, it’s annoying at times to people trying to get things done, but a mostly orderly inclusion of the will of the people is worth it.

      2. I guess I’ll have to dust off this gem:

        “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

        – Ben Franklin

  9. I feel bad that this trip is being dragged through the mud like this. It was a great chance for the students, and Mr. B is a super teacher.

    1. There is no mud-dragging here. Just questions and concerns being raised in the most calm and polite terms

      1. Just like the discussion about graduation rates! We all get passionnate about something and it’s ok to discuss, as long as we are civil and respectful with no name calling.

  10. I don’t like what I know of the Heritage Foundation. If I didn’t already know the great community service and experiences that Close Up provides DHS students, I’d probably be concerned. But being able to get teens to clear yards and parks several times during the year and then put on coats, ties, and professional dress for a whole work week, all while learning and living with students from around the country about how our government really works, is so amazing that I am not concerned about if one visit to a think tank was not properly balanced. I know that the group in the past has gone to the Holocaust Museum, to the Zoo, to Philadelphia, so there’s been lots of experiences besides conservative think tank visits. If you aren’t aware, the logistics of Close Up are incredible, from many, many fundraising events to community service to frequent planning meetings to teaching kids how to dress nicely to chaperoning to photo documentation, and take all year. The net impact is so positive.

    My only complaint is that I didn’t get to vote for whether Mr. B. would be retiring this year. What kind of participatory democracy is this?

  11. Dear Mr. B,

    Please have all of the impressive young scholars who participated in this wonderfully educational trip read the comments in this thread. I’m sure that they we will be both impressed and amused by their elders’ concerns about their political indoctrination.

    And thank YOU for providing these kids with such a great experience. I can’t believe it’s been over twenty years since I had a similarly enlightening experience though the Presidential Classroom program via a scholarship from my high school. If any of the students who participated now fear that they might be permanently scarred by their visit to the Heritage Foundation, you can let them know that I met with my then Senator John Heinz during my trip and that turned me into neither a Republican nor a ketchup mogul.

    Now please just do not tell me that you took the kids past the bar that St. Elmo’s Fire was based on just to have them say “St. Elmo’s What?”

    Thanks,
    J_T

  12. I don’t think people need to be worried or concerned about the close-ups visit to the Heritage Foundation. I went to close up this year and I was one of the students to go to the foundation. I think it was a great opportunity to visit the HF. We had a speech given by a Canadian, who made potato analogies, but I learned nothing new than what I was being exposed to during the trip. Some students(in close-up) had conservative views and we met with a conservative (and a liberal) during a close-up work shop so i learned a lot about the opinions of the right wing. We have to understand that we all wont agree with each other, but during this trip I learned bashing, hating, or disrespecting people or opinions that aren’t yours does nothing good. I also learned how important it was to listen to others even if I disagreed with them. I made awesome friends that are conservatives, liberals or neither who respected me very much. I really enjoyed this trip and I appreciate all the bulldogs who helped us raise money for this trip, because now I’ve been inspired to take part in our political system.

    1. Thank you for posting! You are already participating in social and political dialogue! Good luck to you!

      P.S.: Potato analogies? Those wacky, zany Conservative Canadians!

  13. I am a fairly hard core Democrat. I worked as a senior aide in the U.S. Senate for years for Democrats. I was the Southern Coordinator for the Simon for President campaign in 1988. I am fairly certain Chris Billingsly and I land on the opposite side of most political debates. (Not that you would ever know that from anything he says in any classroom where he presents the most studiously balanced information of anyone I have ever met.) Despite what I suspect to be our different thoughts on politics, there is no one I would trust more with the development of my child’s understanding of history and politics than Chris. I cannot tell you how much I wish he could continue on for years. Visiting the Heritage Foundation no more obliterates our kids’ ability to think critically about some of the HF’s ideas than looking at a polluted river convinces them pollution is ok. (For what it’s worth, the inside-the-beltway fun at the HF is the effort of the Koch brothers to assert control over HF’s activities in light of their heavy donations to the HF. Those efforts have been resisted and caused a good bit of controversy about the freedom of debate within that group.) Thank you Chris, for all you are doing and, especially, for helping our kids handle challenges to their accustomed or prevailing way of thinking. Your efforts will make them thoughtful future leaders.

  14. I think one of the benefits of visiting the Heritage was that the speaker (who was excellent, and a fellow “wacky” conservative Canadian :D) gave an excellent argument. I think that the more undecided kids need examples and the speaker provided them with them. He was speaking about how unconstitutional ObamaCare is, and one person asked “Well, if the government can’t force you to buy healthcare, why can they force you to buy car insurance?” He thought quick on his feet and promptly replied with the explanation of you choose to buy a car, and insurance is simply a requirement and a responsibility of car ownership. I would of liked to visit a liberal think tank, (but I have no problem with solely visiting Heritage), but the comments saying that it’s so bad that we just visited them are ridiculous. As if there aren’t enough liberals in Decatur.

    1. I agree that exposure to speakers who challenge accepted Decatur dogma is a great thing, again, speaking as someone who almost uniformly disagrees with HF. However, the speaker’s quick-on-his-feet retort was actually off the mark. The better answer, which would have been a wonderful teaching moment, would have been to tell the kids that the key is which governmental entity is mandating coverage. State governments are the ones that mandate car insurance coverage. Under our federal constitution, state governments are authorized to have “police powers” that the federal government traditionally has not had. As such, at least over the decades through today, our courts have found that state governments can order you to get insurance and do lots of other things that the feds might not be constitutionally able to do. Whether the Constitution’s commerce clause, which authorizes the feds to regulate interstate commerce, provides cover for the mandate may have been the good follow up to him, since a good argument can be made that the financial flows associated with insurance and health care costs are closely intertwined with interstate commerce. If the statements before the Supreme Court is any indication, the Republican-appointed members of the Court — who constitute the majority — are not buying that argument, however. Then the big question becomes whether they reach out and strike down the rest of the law, a possibility that presents another wonderful teaching moment to show that an “activist” judge (who overreaches to rule based on purely personal, not good legal, grounds) is in the eye of the beholder.

  15. Well said. During the mock congress (students voted and debated on bills), I was surprised to see how much the participants thought through the bills. Gay rights was brought up (basically, if your marriage is recognized in one state, should it be recognized in all?) and I would of never of thought what someone said. He brought up that this argument wasn’t really about gay people, but about states’ rights. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and hope to return one more time during high school.

    1. Yes, Southern states in the 1950’s-’60’s argued maintaining segregation of the races was not about racial discrimination either – it was about states rights. Right.

    2. Sure, but ultimately it IS about gay people. So if you want to deny them basic human rights, please at least be honest about why you would like to do so so. Thank you.

  16. I feel that gay rights and segregation should not be compared. Like comparing a Prius to a Ferrari. I tend to notice that people on the left wing spectrum tend to do that quite a lot.

    1. Ok, so how does a Prius compare to a Ferrari, exactly?
      Perhaps how a left-winger compares to a fascist? or how a right-winger compares to a communist?
      Why shouldn’t gay rights be compared to segregation, exactly?

  17. Gay marriage is not a right. Marriage is not a right. Marriage is a privilege, an institution. In the segregationist era, basically everybody except white Americans were treated at a lower standard. That is a direct violation of the first line of the DOI. THAT is a civil rights issue. I do not believe that gay marriage has anything to do with civil rights. In some states, gay couples have not been granted the privilege of marriage. That is up to the state, and the voters to decide. But it is not a civil right. A gay couple will not walk into, say, a restaurant and be given lower service than a heterosexual couple. That would be civil rights.

    1. An unmarried couple may be treated VERY differently than an unmarried couple in a hospital, if one becomes seriously ill. Even if they have been monogamous life partners for decades, they won’t be considered each other’s next of kin because they were never allowed to be married, even though they desperately wanted to be, and have lived their lives as if they were married, with all the love and commitment that entails. In that context, how is it not an infringement on their civil rights to forbid them to marry?

    1. Seems to me that the easiest way “around it” would be to acknowledge that a gay couple’s avowed commitment to a lifelong partnership is equivalent to a heterosexual couple’s. In fact, there would be no “around it” necessary. Dontcha think? Or is there another reason that you would relegate them to second-class citizen status?

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