Model Congress at CHS
Experiencing American Democracy: Model Congress at CHS
“People are amazed by how sharp, articulate, thoughtful, and productive our teenagers can be when discussing issues that would baffle most adults,” says Patricia Liu, CHS upper school faculty member.
She is speaking of student participants in Model Congress, an initiative she launched at CHS two years ago that provides a unique opportunity for students to experience the American democratic process firsthand.
At Model Congress conferences, students step into the roles of government officials, writing legislation, debating policy, and voting on laws — all within a simulative environment that models the rules of order used in our nation’s lawmaking bodies. According to Miss Liu, the topics of debate at Model Congress are pressing and pertinent: should we invest in experimental alternative energy resources? Repeal the death penalty? Increase funding for national park preservation? Tax junk food? What should our government’s stances be on issues such as voter ID laws or health care? Most importantly, how can these stances be turned into actionable policy?
Model Congress conferences are held all over the country, including major conferences organized by students at Yale, Princeton, Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, Rutgers, and other prestigious universities.
Miss Liu initiated CHS’ Model Congress program in 2018 as a way of engaging teenagers in the kind of thoughtful dialog that can lead to deeper understanding of, and helpful responses to, difficult and complex subjects. “The need for civil discourse and productive debate in our society has never been greater,” she explains. “Model Congress demands that CHS students step past shallow analyses and challenges them to dig deep.” Here, she says, students must discover and appreciate the complexity of our political systems; respectfully consider viewpoints that challenge their own; and work together with their peers to tackle the biggest issues concerning our country today. More than a club for high school students to get together and argue, the program runs on collaboration, dialogue, and teamwork.
It’s a challenge the students seem to relish. “Every debate expands your knowledge on the topic at least a little bit,” says Levi, one of the participants. “You get a greater appreciation for the nuance in topics that could otherwise stay firmly in the realm of the abstract.” Ally, a student leader in the program, says that expanding her perspective is “the best aspect of being involved.” “Obviously,” she points out, “I have my own perspective on a certain thing. However, my perspective can be changed by discussing certain issues with other people…I can persuade someone or I can be persuaded by someone. Listening to and knowing other people’s perspectives is always fascinating.”
One of the joys of facilitating the program, says Miss Liu, is seeing students flourish in new ways – and her students agree.
“This club is one of the most influential and life-changing experiences to have happened to me. I used to be so anxious, and scared to publicly speak. Model Congress has taught me to be confident, especially in what I say and in what I believe,” says Sabina, a student leader in the program.
Matthew, another student leader, initially joined the initiative for the overnight trip to Yale. Since then, he says, “I have definitely become a better speaker, and my knowledge on all sorts of governmental, economic, and world affairs has quadrupled.” He notes that traveling and debating have helped to prepare him for life after high school.
To William, another student participant, the exchange of ideas is a way of connecting with others, meeting new people, and learning to find a way forward together. “I learned through experience the importance of compromise – because that is literally the only way to get anything done,” he says.
Since it began with thirteen students, CHS Model Congress has now grown to 35 active participants.
Ultimately, Miss Liu sees Model Congress supporting the mission of CHS as expressed in Colossians 2:3: “In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” “It is one thing to debate fiercely and bring home armfuls of awards from a conference,” she says; “it is quite another to engage one’s peers in discussion that reflects all the qualities of Christ: His defense of the truth, His sense of logic, His love for justice, His compassion, His mercy. As advisor, it is my greatest hope that amongst the hundreds of schools that attend these Model Congress conferences, CHS’ reputation will be defined, first and foremost, by their love for Jesus and their commitment to speaking truth.”