Thursday, May 1, 2014

Future US President Visits the Indiana Statehouse

I've known for years that Will is interested in politics and the government, but until recently, my supporting role in this interest has mostly been to focus on active citizenship--voting, campaigning for a favored politician, following the news and forming opinions, letters to the editor and comment cards to businesses, etc.

One of the first things that Will did after she began to free school, however, was latch onto the Inside Government Girl Scout badge, and begin to work towards earning it. We've had a lot of success this year using Girl Scout badges as a curriculum spine, so later I'll go into all the activities and resources that we engaged with for this unit, both from the badge book and from my own research, but one particular badge book activity is a field trip to a center of local or state government (national, too, I suppose, but how many Girl Scouts could swing that one?). Will really, really wanted to visit the Indiana Statehouse for this activity, and I was shocked at how easy this was to set up.

Our capitol building, the Indiana Statehouse, has a public tour department that offers public tours every hour. The site said that they often had scheduled groups come during these times, but that even those scheduled tours were also open to the public, so I emailed the office, told them what day we planned to visit and what grades the children are, and asked if there were any scheduled tours that day that would be particularly appropriate for us.

The office replied with the times of several school group tours with children in the correct grade ranges, and gave a recommendation about which group we'd like best. I took their advice, and that's how we busted out our front door SO early one morning, barreled down the highway with all the day commuters in order to be in Indianapolis, parked in a garage, sans camera (forgot it in the car but didn't have time to go back for it), hoofed downtown, through security, and were waiting in the rotunda of the Indiana Statehouse bright and early at 9:00 sharp.

Let me just tell you right now: IT WAS WORTH THE STRESS! I don't know if every tour is this amazing, or if it had to do with the fact that one of the children in this tour group was the grandson of one of the state reps, but this tour was an incredible experience, so far beyond what I'd expected that I can still hardly believe it.

The docent didn't go into much detail about the Statehouse's architecture (except to note the Indiana limestone, of COURSE), but I snapped a few lousy camera phone shots to help us remember:
We found The Gettysburg Address! I love it when we find references to previous studies.

The tour itself was wonderfully, appropriately focused on the three branches of government, the seats of all of which are located at the Statehouse:

reading about the governor-- 
--and then standing right outside his office door!
 The docent led us to the House of Representatives, where we all got to sit where the state representatives sit, while first Representative Robert Behning explained to the children why voting is important, in a really kid-friendly way:

He referenced several practical matters that affect children's lives, such as the length of the school day, and sales tax, and explained that it's voting that decides these matters (more or less), and that if the children want to help decide them, they have to vote when they're older.

I *think* it was Rep. Christina Hale who spoke to the children next, and I'm bummed that I didn't write down her name so that I could remember for sure, because her speech to the children was inspiring. She told the children how important it was that they consider running for office when they're old enough, because they have contributions to society that they can make. She told them that this responsibility is especially important if they're girls or are not Caucasian, because their contributions are currently under-represented in public office.

Syd liked the idea of this:

As an aside--I really liked the group of schoolchildren with whom we toured. They were bright, eager, engaged, participative fourth graders who were funny and clever and outgoing, and didn't seem to bat a single eyelash at a couple of random kids tagging along on their field trip...

...even when the random kids didn't appear to understand how to walk in single file. Seriously, my kids can stand in line like champs, and they get the reasoning behind that, but I suppose that walking in line must simply be a matter in which they're not well socialized, because they just don't understand the concept. The hallways are wide at the Indiana Statehouse--why not walk wherever you would like? To be fair, since I can't name a single instance as an adult in which I have walked in single file, I don't really super care, but I did continually berate them in a whisper on this trip until they finally agreed to do it--more or less:
They preferred to be at the front or back of the line, because the middle of the line, with its personal space invasions, totally baffled them.
 The Senate space is far roomier, so instead we piled into the public viewing gallery above it while a senator's aide gave a presentation and tossed souvenir pins to the children:

My favorite experience, however, was the visit to the State Supreme Court. I like the impartiality of judges more than I like the politics of any of the reps, and I absolutely loved our presentation by State Supreme Court Justice Rush:

She spoke to the children about her previous experience in juvenile court, and she clearly has an affinity with children, because her body language was so welcoming, and her speech so suited to them. She spoke in detail about all the studies required in becoming a Supreme Court justice, and all the reading and research and writing that's required of them, and told the children that if they liked to read, and were interested in things being fair, that they should consider becoming a judge when they grow up. She also pointed out the portrait gallery of justices on the walls of the chamber, and told some stories about some of them, and she, too, explained to the children that diversity among the justices is crucial to reaching fair decisions, and especially encouraged any children who might bring a different perspective--girls, in particular--to become a judge.

After this beautiful, inspiring speech about why girls, in particular, were needed in the justice system, she asked all the girls who were thinking about becoming a judge to raise their hands. All the little girls except Will dutifully put their hands up. Later, I asked Will why she didn't raise her hand, too.

"You don't want to maybe be a judge when you grow up? Justice Rush said that judges have to like to read, and you LOVE to read."


"Why not?"

"I'm going to be president when I grow up."


The docent actually did an activity with the children in which she demonstrated very clearly what each child would need to do, starting now, in order to become a Supreme Court Justice or the president one day, so Will's short-term goals are to study hard, be active in extracurriculars, become the president of a club, and serve as a page in the Indiana Statehouse when she turns twelve. 

Long-term goals: State senator. Governor for two terms. Bus campaign tour of the country. President of the United States.

She promises me that I can live at the White House with her if I want to. 

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