The U.S. congressional page program should be history. Not because of disgraced former Republican congressman Mark Foley, nor because of other page-program low points, but simply because it makes no sense to have such a program.
Mind you, I'm all for civics education; it should, in fact, be a top priority in schools. Good citizenship skills begin early. Comedian Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" spots -- where he finds ignorant average Joes and Janes, who can't answer the most benign political questions -- aren't just the stuff of late-night jokes. A recent study ("The Coming Crisis in Citizenship") from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute of 14,000 U.S. college freshmen and seniors found that our kids don't know much about American history.
But civics education doesn't require a congressional page program. To begin with, such a program reaches only a tiny number of kids -- and the chief lesson it teaches them is the less-than-appetizing part of how D.C. works: It's sometimes all about who you know, sometimes a patronage program for the sons and daughters of the well-connected. Kids don't need to learn that lesson quite that early. Kids also don't need to be going to a special school and leaving normal America for the fishbowl of D.C., as much as I respect the importance of that fishbowl and what it accomplishes.
I'm all for encouraging kids to be overachievers, to learn all they can and take opportunities wherever they can get them. But why does a 16-year-old need to be sitting on the House floor during the day? Pols don't need anyone running back and forth for them as much as they once did. There are BlackBerrys now. If I want to get a congressman, I'll shoot him an e-mail; certainly his colleagues can do the same.
And while it's creepy for a congressman to be crying at a congressional-page farewell speech, as Mark Foley did in 2002 -- it's also a little off, to be completely honest, for a teen to spend his youth on Capitol Hill. It's not natural! Play ball. Read the books you won't have the time to read the rest of your life. Spend time listening to the wisdom of your parents -- you won't have them forever. Get involved at school. Do some volunteer work. There will be time to indulge your political passions -- too much time, even! There will be time to spend on the House or Senate floor if you still think that's your calling in a few years. And you know what? You'll be a richer, deeper person for having spent more time in real America before you head for the Hill -- and the Beltway will be better for having a Renaissance you and not a kid who has wanted to be president since he was 12 and filled his resume accordingly.