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Fourth-Graders Get Rough Lesson In Politics


Some fourth-graders in New Hampshire got a rough lesson in the ups and downs of legislation. The kids had proposed a bill to make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor. They praised the male and female hawk's teamwork on nest-building, incubation and feeding of their young. They said the bird's strength and determination made it a worthy state symbol. Well, the bill got through committee and the kids went to the New Hampshire House Gallery last week to watch the debate. But then, things quickly went south. Jim Cutting is the fourth-graders' teacher at Lincoln H. Akerman school in Hampton Falls. I asked him how his class came up with the idea to propose an official state raptor.

JIM CUTTING: We talked about some of the previous state symbols that have been initiated by children. And eight of them decided that they would like to pursue this a little further and I had suggested to them that they might consider a state raptor, being a majestic bird. They decided that the red-tailed hawk would best meet their criteria. And they were willing to take some time away from recess and stay inside to discuss it and begin to kind of move this process forward.

BLOCK: Well, let's go to where the bill got into trouble. So the eight kids from the class went to the legislature in New Hampshire. And we have some audio of what happened in House debate. Let's take a listen to a few clips. The first here is Christy Bartlett.


CHRISTY BARTLETT: We already have a state bird. But now do we need a state raptor? Isn't that a bird?

BLOCK: Ms. Bartlett said there are just too many bills like this, that it's distracting the legislature from more important issues. And that view was picked up by another representative named John Burt.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BURT: If we keep bringing more of these bills and bills and bills forward that really I feel we shouldn't have in front of us, we'll be picking a state hot dog next.

BLOCK: State hot dog. OK. Then there was Warren Groen who tried to draw a link between this discussion about the hawk and his staunch opposition to abortion. And he said on the floor he has been studying how the red-tailed hawk operates.


REPRESENTATIVE WARREN GROEN: And it mostly likes field mice and small rodents, but its grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor-sharp beak to rip its victim to shreds - tear it apart limb-by-limb. And I guess the shame about making this the state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.

BLOCK: Mr. Cutting, how did the kids react when they heard this?

CUTTING: I think that they were a bit discouraged to hear anybody speak against their bill. Most of the comments I don't think that they really - I think that they had a sense of the tone of it and they were tuned in to the reaction of other people, whether it was their families that were with them. There was some laughter on the House floor, and one child asked, why did people laugh at us? But I think that, in particular, the Planned Parenthood comment was not something that they really understood.

BLOCK: Well, the bill to make the red-tailed hawk the New Hampshire state raptor - it was defeated. Was this a teachable moment for you? I mean, did it provide a lesson in something about civics and the way government works?

CUTTING: It did from the standpoint that just because there's a chance that something might fail doesn't mean that there's not a reason to give it your best effort. You know, that was really, I think, the message that came from this, to be proud of, you know, trying and following something through to the very end and ensuring that you've done everything you could. The children all wore shirts to the House vote that said, live free and fly. It had a picture of the red-tailed hawk on the shirt. They were there ahead of time to hand out flyers to the representatives as they entered, encouraging them to vote for their bill. So they really reached out in every way that they could.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Cutting, thanks for talking to us. We appreciate it.

CUTTING: You're welcome.

BLOCK: Jim Cutting teaches fourth grade at Lincoln H. Akerman School in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. His students' bill to make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor failed by a vote of 133 to 160. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.