On Wednesday 6th graders Abigail Stark and Laila Oko, and 7th graders Dylan Weber and Mario Imbroscio, joined Humanities Coordinator Teacher Natalie Stapert to attend “Climate Change: Impacts and the Need to Act”—a hearing of the Natural Resources House Committee. Despite their best efforts to arrive early, the group was ushered into the overflow room where the four students stood out as the youngest observers.
Seeing Congress in action for the first time gave the students a unique perspective on how a democracy works, but also left them with some frustration. “The way it actually happens is different from the way it should happen,” said Mario. “They focused on economics and politics, instead of what is right or wrong.” Some representatives chose not to show, but for those who did and the audience members who were also in attendance, “it was a very White space,” Abigail observed. She wishes there were more diversity—more women and different ethnicities—so more perspectives could have been heard.
As the hearing continued, the middle schoolers found some connection with lawmakers. Dylan connected with the Democratic Governor from North Carolina, Roy Cooper, who in his testimony challenged the committee by saying, “It’s not how much will this cost, it’s how much will this cost if we don’t do anything.” Dylan said, “Seeing them in person reminds you they are normal humans, not separate from society.” Overall though, the students felt the representatives were disconnected and more focused on themselves than what was good for their constituents. “Had we been in the room, it would have changed the conversation, and they would have to think about how it would affect the next generation,” said Laila. She wanted to hear testimony backed by “science rather than people’s opinions.”
The subcommittee called for a lunch break after two hours. More witnesses were scheduled to appear later that afternoon. As Natalie and the students made their way back to Lowell, Natalie noticed a shift in the students’ conversation. Before the hearing, middle schoolers talked about the science of climate change. After watching the hearing, they discussed political and economic factors they hadn’t previously considered. Laila said the experience made her realize the complexities of government and that lawmakers can’t just make change happen because they want to: “They have to discuss it, go over every single idea, and explore every view.”
Abigail noted the process seemed orderly, but slow. Because of the time it takes to pass laws, the students returned their focus to smaller actions to slow climate change. “It’s easier for people to make changes in their daily lives,” Dylan remarked. As a group, they agreed that if a majority of Americans changed their habits then Congress would have no choice but to follow.
“Before today, I found it silly or absurd that people wouldn’t believe in climate change because the facts are all right there,” said Mario. After this experience, he sees a more interconnected network of issues to address, like politics and economics, subjects the middle schoolers now seek to learn more about.