MS Hill Day: Critical Thinking by Understanding Multiple Perspectives

A change of venue and a presentation from some professional actors or informed docents—that’s the usual formula for a successful school field trip. However, the GDS Hill Day on January 21 followed a somewhat different path. Our students were the informed main participants, seeking even more knowledge.

Ready with their old-school reporters’ notebooks and prepared with expert advice given by GDS parent journalists, our students traveled in groups of six around the DC-metro area, interviewing experts on the constitutionally relevant issues of abortion, affirmative action, capital punishment, gun control, and immigration.

The name Hill Day may be a misnomer. We typically speak to experts, not necessarily people on the Hill. We go to law offices, research institutes, advocacy and lobby organizations, and congressional offices. The goal is to speak to someone who can articulate the position well, not necessarily someone who works for the government.

Students are researching these topics in order to better understand multiple perspectives on complex constitutional issues, gleaning material that they can use to inform a “two-handed research paper” (a paper where the writer presents an argument from one perspective—“on the one hand” and then from the opposing perspective—“on the other hand”—prior to delivering the writer’s own opinion, informed by the two previous perspectives).

One group, having just finished discussing the complexities of federalism and the niceties of Equal Protection with a law professor, found itself with a half an hour to kill on the George Washington University campus. They immediately transformed themselves back into their wonderful 13-year-old selves, playing an impromptu game of ninja that lasted until the school bus arrived.

Later they returned to their policy wonk mode, returning from the Hill Day excursion with pages of notes and a new appreciation for Scott Fitzgerald’s maxim: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

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