By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
It’s not every day that kids get to shout in a library, or that a state legislator gets to pretend to be Alex Trebek. Just on U.S. Constitution Day, or in this case, the closest school day to the anniversary of Sept. 17, 1787, when the document was signed in Philadelphia.
The Constitution Jeopardy contestants were excited, but well behaved fifth graders from Conneaut Elementary School. The game show host was State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, whose previous position as a history teacher helped prepare him for Friday’s role. The setting was the Wood County District Public Library, in the same room that will be used in less than two months for local adults to elect their public servants.
“This room makes me nervous, because this is where I get hired or fired,” Gardner said to the students. He asked the children if they could name his boss. The names started flying. The president? No. The vice president? No. The governor? “Some people think so, but he knows he’s not. I’ve told him that before,” Gardner said.
After several other wrong answers, Gardner revealed the answer. “You are my boss. I’m required to listen to you.”
The fifth graders may not have been prepared for that question, but once the Constitution Jeopardy game began, they could not be stumped.
The categories consisted of topics like the founding fathers, checks and balances, branches of the government, the creating the Constitution.
The students had no trouble naming the law-making branch of government; the third president, who was not at the signing of the Constitution; and the location of the Constitutional Conference.
A history teacher at heart, Gardner could not resist throwing out a few of his own questions, asking the number of congressional and senate members. The answers may not have always been exactly what he had in mind. When asked about other items associated with Philadelphia, children named cheese steak and Hershey chocolate.
As the Jeopardy game heated up, without the aid of dueling buzzers, the teams shifted to raising hands rather than shouting out answers. Arms shot up for those knowing the power of a veto vote, and the First Amendment as defender of freedom of speech and religion. The clue for Alexander Hamilton was aided with mention of the popular Broadway musical.
Some questions were pretty easy for the fifth graders, like naming the first president. “If you would have gotten that wrong, we might have had to do demerit points,” Gardner said.
Other questions even stumped the game show host, like how many of the 13 original states had to ratify the Constitution? That would be nine.
Another tough question covered the additions to the Constitution, which of course, the students knew were called amendments. An audience member and former school board member, Ellen Dalton, had to help with this answer. It’s 27, if you’re wondering, with the last one added in 1992.
The students knew the Constitution was written on parchment, not paper, and with a quill made from a feather.
“You guys are smart,” said Maria Simon, head of youth services at Wood County District Public Library.
Though this doesn’t happen to Alex Trebek, after the game it was Gardner’s turn on the hot seat. The students posed question after question:
- Has he ever wanted to be president? No, Gardner said, “I think that’s such a tough job.” The most difficult part would be as chief of the military and sending troops to war.
- How can he stay in politics so long? “That’s what a lot of people are asking,” Gardner said, smiling. But he talked about his commitment to public service. “I love what I’m doing.”
- What happens if you run for office, but decide you don’t want it? “It’s important for you to decide that before you run for office,” he said.
- What year did he start in politics? The answer of 1985 brought out a chorus of “oooohhs,” from the young audience. “Yes, Ohio was a state then. We were not a territory,” Gardner emphasized.
Some questions strayed from the topic, as young minds often do:
- What if he lost his library card? Gardner said he would ask the library Director Michael Penrod for a new one.
- Has he ever seen the sitcom “Happy Days?” Yes, in fact he still remembers the first episode.
- What is his favorite book? “Arthur Meets the President,” a children’s book with Arthur the aardvark getting nervous before meeting the president. Gardner said he used the book as a prop once in a commencement speech at a college graduation.
Before leaving, Gardner walked around the room with a basket full of U.S. Constitutions, giving one to each student.
“It’s your responsibility to participate in your government,” he said.