DODDS students delve into political process at Model U.S. Senate
By MARK PATTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 30, 2012
RAUNHEIM, Germany — “It’s so frustrating; people are so unwilling to compromise.”
SHAPE junior Clarissa McLaren was among more than 100 high school students from DODDS schools across Europe who learned firsthand this week how hard it is to get legislation through Congress.
Role-playing Senators and other government officials, students from 16 Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe participated in a weeklong Model United States Senate.
McLaren portrayed Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. She expressed her frustration after a Democrat-proposed “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Employment Rights Act” narrowly passed the mock Senate.
The students spent their days proposing and voting on bills, holding committee meetings, forming alliances and urging President Barack Obama, portrayed by Naples junior Bryan Pfirrmann, to veto or sign legislation into law. There were even mock press conferences, teachers playing the roles of Senate pages and live streaming coverage from the student video team.
Students were also faced with dilemmas on how to advance their positions and sway peers from across the aisle.
Karen Webber, Advanced Placement government teacher at Wiesbaden High School and a project officer for the model senate, said the students research the senators they are portraying and the political parties before the event, so they have an idea of how their real-life counterparts would act on certain issues.
In some cases, the stances of the senators the students were portraying conflicted with their own views.
“It’s ridiculously challenging because I don’t agree with the person I’m playing whatsoever,” said Heidelberg senior Nathan Schiele, who was portraying Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “It’s really hard to suppress everything I believe.”
Although Schiele — who hopes to one day be elected to the U.S. Senate on the Democratic ticket representing Washington state — may not agree with McConnell’s voting tendencies, he said the experience of playing a Republican only makes his debate skills stronger.
“I absolutely love to debate and to get feedback from people who are able to hold their own in an argument, especially an intense political argument,” Schiele said.
Some of the bills on the agenda provided plenty of intensity on the mock Senate floor. Women in combat, stem cells, border security, military spending cuts, wind turbines, legalization of prostitution and alternative energy tax are just a sampling of the issues the students tackled.
Some students at the mock senate said this year’s presidential and congressional elections make it the perfect time to learn more about the government.
“Especially in a time when you’re not happy with what the government is doing, it’s really important to understand what they’re doing and what you can do to help change what’s going on,” said Wiesbaden senior Katy Kem, who was portraying Vice President Joe Biden.
Schiele said he was impressed with some of his peers and would like to see them pursue a career in politics.
“There are quite a few people who I’d love to see actually in Congress, because I think that their views, though I may not agree with them, would definitely be a lot better than some of the people we have today,” Schiele said. “Polarization has just gotten so bad; it would be nice if everyone just kind of started coming together a little bit more.”