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Two of the three branches of government come alive

By Rachael Barlow

(First published in the Groton Landmark; reprinted with permission.)

When I booked a field trip to the State House for a group of children ages kindergarten to third grade, I heard silence on the other end of the line. (What - is she nuts?) But using our chronological history curriculum, we had learned up through the American Revolution and the making of our federal Constitution. The previous week, we had focused on the Constitution and learned about our three branches of government. It occurred to me that we live so close to Boston, we ought to see some branches of our own government in action.

We carpooled in with another homeschooling family and met 2 more families in Boston Common on the way in. We got there just in time to see an "informal session" of the State House of Representatives. Now, I'm embarrassed to say this, but I had never seen our legislatures in action. They prayed, just as they had after the first couple months of trying to write the constitution, and then said the Pledge of Allegiance. That was the most formal part. The rest of the time about 12 people walked around schmoozing while one guy spoke into a microphone. He would introduce a bill, like one about installing an elevator, and then say "All in favor say 'Aye'". Then "All against it say 'Nay' - The Aye's have it!" Meanwhile, no one had responded in any way - they were all too busy talking to each other. It reminds me of trying to help the soccer coach talk with all the 3rd grade girls! For about 30 minutes we occupied the children by pointing out the various artworks around the room and the process of politics, then we left for our tour. "That was not very interesting, Mom!" my 3rd grader said. (I'm sure it was even less interesting for the poor guy at the microphone, I thought!)

The official tour of the state house was just great. The docent asked the children questions and showed them statues, busts, and portraits of people they knew from their reading. They were thrilled to see the original portrait of Lincoln used on the old five dollar bill and a Greek-style statue of George Washington, amongst many other works of art. At one point we were looking at a window which contained the seals of many of the King-appointed Governors of Boston. We could not locate the one Governor we remembered from a great picture book, (Sleds on Boston Common). It was about the children of Boston complaining to a General because the British encampments were in their sled runs. I couldn't remember the Governors name and neither could the docent. One of the children remembered though and we were all thrilled when the docent found a portrait of the man. It was wonderful to see the children's excitement at finding the portrait of a historical figure that had become real to them! (These tours are free, by the way, and really excellent.)

Timing worked perfectly that we could eat lunch and then sit-in on a "formal session" of the State Senate. We got there just as a bill was being introduced. The bill suggested that a non-custodial parent be allowed access to their child(ren)'s school records. Then three senators expressed questions about or support of the bill. This was followed by a "roll call vote" where every senator answered. Interestingly, they all answered "yes" not "aye" and it was unanimously voted in. As the bill became law, my 3rd grader said, "That's great Mom. Now my friend Jane's dad can get her school records too." How perfect! A law children could understand was introduced, debated and adopted - and all before the five-year-olds lost interest in playing on the carpet!

At this point we stopped by our local state representative's office. Representative Hargraves was in his office and happy to see us. The children were quite excited to actually meet a real legislator! Representative Hargraves was polite and engaging as he explained the photos on his wall and showed the kids a photo of him in a beautiful antique car with the nice folks who gave the money for the playground in Groton. After a photo with Representative Hargraves, we were off for home with a sense that politics wasn't just big and overarching but personal too!

It's hard to explain why the whole day was so exciting. I think it was because we read about how these different offices were created and then got to meet real people in these roles. Sharing the experience with friends who also enjoyed it added a great deal too. Either way, we can't wait until our next field trip to the John Adams Courthouse so we can see the third branch of government in action!

Rachael spent ten years as a software engineer, became a mother, was a volunteer lactation specialist, and now homeschools her two children, helps direct a homeschoolers' chorus, and worship leads in her local church. When her local paper, the Groton Landmark, included homeschoolers in their back-to-school issue, Rachael was interviewed but felt that she didn't get to say enough. The editor then told her she could continue to share her opinions by writing a weekly article about homeschooling. She jumped at the chance and found a new voice - writing. You can read more of Rachael's thoughts at her blog http://rsbarlow.blogspot.com/.

Books for exploring the genesis of our country and the three branches of government.