Wednesday, March 9, 2011

DC Days Five and Six

Yesterday we started out at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. I took most of the kids straight to a live show at the Einstein Planetarium called "The Stars Tonight" that teaches about constellations and planets visible in today's sky. The Air and Space museum has unmanned aircraft (first time seeing the much-discussed Predator drones used on the Af-Pak border), the Wright Brothers' original plane, and even an Apollo spacecraft you can walk inside. Many students' favorite was the flight simulators. There was a beautiful photography exhibit with images from the Hubble- exquisitely beautiful, awe-inspiring pictures of the sun, faraway galaxies, and even just the details of our moon. They have a huge gift shop, and I bought a book about parallel universes from the guy who wrote An Elegant Universe. I was particularly moved by an exhibit on aviation in the Pacific during World War II, since my grandfather was there as forward air control. To think of what he went through on those island campaigns, and to be in the mindset of those men as they believed they were about to invade mainland Japan... I certainly learned a lot and have more compassion for the experience and sacrifice of those men.

Next we headed to the National Archives. The building was practically empty. It took less than 30 minutes to enter, go through security, and see the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. There isn't much education regarding the documents (no tour or anything, you just walk by), so that was a little disappointing. Because we finished so far ahead of schedule, a couple of students got to see a movie. They had been asking often, and we kept saying it wouldn't fit in the schedule, but it did work out at last and they were thrilled. Last night one of our girls led a lovely devotion, talking about how she learned through the post-earthquake semester that God is never surprised by our reactions or thoughts. We got a noise complaint two nights ago from singing during our nightly team meetings, so last night we just listened to a song and has private prayer time.

This morning was freezing, and we headed off to Arlington National Cemetery. We attended the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was very moving. While walking to see the ceremony, you pass fields of white marble graves in perfect lines, name after name after name. You see the wives and children on the back of the stones, sometimes just called "infant" with only one date- one day of life.  I spoke to my little brother last night (the Marine), and he said he now knows 21 people buried at Arlington. There were two funerals taking place while we were on the grounds, and we jumped at both 21-gun salutes. One was so close that we could hear the trumpet- we stopped walking for a moment to stand and listen to Taps.

This afternoon was spent at Mount Vernon. It takes over an hour to get there, with several Metro train changes and buses involved. It was worth it. The mansion is in pristine historical condition, the tour guides are the best educators we've seen yet, and the museum on the grounds is my favorite so far. One thing I noticed- Mount Vernon takes no pains to hide the intensive amount of slave labor used to run the estate and grounds. They also don't hide the conditions the slaves worked in- for instance, how the laundry women carried dozens of buckets per load, plunging their hands in boiling water and hand-scrubbing with chemicals all day. George Washington, Martha, and 25 members of their family are buried in an elaborate vault, celebrated with large stones and memorials. Next to the vault is the slave burial site, a field of an unknown number of unmarked graves to which one monument was added over 100 years later. What do my students think about that? Many are black, but do they identify in any way with African slavery in America? 

Ben and I laughed the whole time about the neon yellow badges we were instructed to wear by the staff identifying us as CHAPERONES. The kids were in a great mood, even in the freezing cold, and the day ended well.



  1. What? Noise complaint? Really? Ugh! Y'all are brave chaperones indeed! What a fun experience for all of them-awesome!

  2. Your story about the National Archives reminded me of the British Museum. I was looking for the Magna Carta, found the room it was in, and saw a big crowd. I waited patiently in line, but when I got to the display, it was a Beatle song hand-written by Paul McCartney on hotel stationary. Finally found the Magna Carta, where two old professors and I had it all to ourselves. Stay safe.



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