Elementary, My Dear Watson – Part One
No, not the off-handed comment famously rendered by the brilliant English detective Sherlock Holmes to his trusted companion, Dr. Watson. I’m talking about that generation of learners who fill our elementary schools, our next generation of leaders, scientists, entertainers, and thinkers.
Some of my most favored activities are annual visits to the elementary school classes in District 3-B as they focus on learning about our state and its government. Typically fourth-graders, these students are being exposed to concepts that might seem a little foreign, and not necessarily the things they have much interest in.
I’m pretty sure the boys would rather be talking baseball, and the girls would rather discuss the boys. Regardless, the teachers are kind enough to give a politician some face time to try to create some excitement about our government.
If you think that talking about government is easy, take my word for it, it’s not. Even giving speeches to grown ups that feature government and politics is a tough gig; not something many look forward to. I’ve seen the rolled eyes, the look of skepticism as the audience braces for droning drumbeat of self-aggrandizement typical of most political speeches.
Adults have come to expect it, though, so there isn’t a lot of surprise. Children, on the other hand, have no real expectation, other than a change of pace from the normal structured learning environment of their classroom.
Over the years, the sessions have gone much better than expected. Children learn best when their natural energy is focused on the task at hand, so these sessions typically start with a game. We review their knowledge of our state symbols, starting simply and building to the less well-known.
See how many you can guess (the answers will be at the bottom of next week’s column):
The State Dog
The State Cat
The State Flower
The State Bird
The State Tree
The State Horse
The State Crustacean
The State Sport
The State Team Sport
The State Gemstone
The State Exercise
The State Cake
It’s a fun way to focus on all things Maryland, and to introduce the topic of what makes us special. Many of these fourth grade classes get them all, or at least all but one or two. Hopefully, you do better than that!
Following the symbol game, we spend time talking about our state flag and its own interesting history. The students typically know a little about George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore. Lord Calvert chose as his personal crest his father’s family colors of gold and black, along with the heraldic imagery of a sash crossing palisades to show he had battled for his king. Less well-known is his choice of his mother’s Crossland red and white cross bottony, reflecting his Christian faith.
Unfortunately, Lord Calvert’s crest didn’t become our official state flag until an act of the General Assembly in 1904. Before that, and during the Civil War, the two merged designs of our flag separately represented Maryland’s own division between the Union sympathizers, who went with the black and gold “Baltimore” colors, and the southern parts of the state, who chose the red and white design as the secessionist colors.
A little talk about brother fighting brother right here in Frederick County, and you’ve got those fourth graders’ attention. Good thing, because once you start talking about how government works, it is short attention span time!
Governor’s typically have excellent name recognition, probably thanks to their sophisticated media machines. Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich was identified each year, but Governor Martin O’Malley needed a year or two on the TV before the students got his name. Befitting their invisible status, lieutenant governors are virtually unknown.
They know their delegate, probably because I’m standing there; but no one, not one time in six years, has been able to identify State District 3 Sen. Alex Mooney by name. Sounds like the Mooney machine needs to do some more youth outreach!
Since most of them are preparing for a school trip to Annapolis, we talk about the historic State House building. This year, it’s actually closed to tourists, but the kids will see some artifacts that have been relocated from the Capitol building to the House and Senate office buildings. Not the same, but as it good as it’ll be this year.
Next week, we’ll look at the actual legislative game we play in school, as opposed to the games played in Annapolis.