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Paging a Creative Solution
August 22nd, 2011

My favorite page

I suppose I think it’s a shame.  I’ve been mulling it over for several days now, trying to decide what, exactly, was my stance on the decision of the House of Representatives to end its 200-year-old page program.

I was never a page, so I don’t have any personal nostalgia attached to the news.  Nevertheless, I feel a bit sad about it.  I read that, “After nearly 200 years, the House page program that allowed high school students to serve as messengers and learn about Congress is ending, rendered obsolete by the Internet and email in cost-cutting times,” and it took the wind out of my sails a bit.

Apparently the program costs around $5 million per year to run.  And apparently with so much communication delivered electronically now (including the news that the program would be ending), the House just didn’t feel it could justify the cost.  I get that.  This is not a time to be wasting money solely in a nod to tradition.   But why not find something else for these eager and civic-minded kids to do?

I’ve read one after another article in recent years about how today’s teens and college aged kids are narcissistic and utterly self-absorbed.  If that’s really true, doesn’t something like the page program seem like a perfect antidote?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful for these kids to continue to have the chance to get away from home for a summer, become a part of something much bigger and much older than themselves, and learn a lot about how our legislative branch works?  So what if they aren’t needed as errand boys and girls anymore.  That doesn’t mean there’s nothing for them to do.  I wish that, rather than chuck the thing altogether, someone had come up with another use for the pages.  I’m not a Washington insider, so I haven’t the foggiest idea what needs are unmet, but I can’t imagine that there’s nothing in Washington that a group of smart, motivated kids couldn’t tackle.

It’s not that I’m advocating keeping the page program out of some sense of hanging onto the past.  Perhaps there is a token of that – it’s always sad to see something that once thrived wither and die on the vine – but more than anything I think it’s a lost opportunity.  It’s a lost opportunity not only for the kids who won’t get to serve, but also for our country which is giving up on an opportunity to inspire young people.  (Despite the fact that this summer likely wouldn’t have been a very inspiring one on Capitol Hill…)

Congress has proven many times over recently that creative thinking isn’t their forte, so perhaps it’s asking too much to suggest that they come up with a better use for the pages.  But I have a hard time believing that all the value that changed hands through the page program (in both directions) over the past 200 years can be wholly captured by e-mail.

One Response to “Paging a Creative Solution”

  1. Cathy Says:

    I had the same gut reaction and conversation in my head that you write about here. It is sad to see a 200-year tradition come to a close.