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Secretary of state discusses state role with fourth-graders
The average civics lesson at Clippard Elementary School doesn't begin with a reminder about good behavior. But the appearance of Secretary of State Matt Blunt and the requisite news media following him were too much for the fourth-graders to resist, evoking a few shushes and sharp words from their teachers.
When their fidgeting subsided, 60 fourth-graders were treated Monday to a session on Missouri government given by a man who knows.
Blunt cracked a joke near the beginning of his presentation: "The state seal is not an animal." A few of Clippard's students chuckled but later showed their government prowess, stopping just short of grilling Blunt on the reliability of punch-card ballots.
The lesson was arranged by Blunt's office with fourth-grade teacher Terry Jones last week. Blunt routinely travels the state, picking schools at random to visit and discuss his job. In this case, the timing was especially good.
"It's neat that the students have an opportunity to see some of the government officials because we're studying Missouri history this year," Jones said.
Blunt explained the duties of the secretary of state, asked a few questions of the students and then fielded some of theirs. In answer to his request for a list of famous people from Missouri, the children rattled off a long list of prominent Missourians, including George Washington Carver, Walt Disney and Harry Truman. There was even one boy who claimed a family relationship to infamous Missourian Jesse James, and several students could name the woman who designed the first Missouri state flag, Marie Oliver.
Blunt, the expected GOP gubernatorial candidate next year, held students' attention with forthright comments and self-deprecating humor.
In answer to a question about the qualifications for a secretary of state candidate, he said, "Well, the secretary of state must not be important, because it's the easiest of all state offices to be eligible for. The only requirement is two years of registration as a Missouri voter."
He stressed that any of the students could run for an office, adding that his and other elected positions require a person "who is concerned about meeting the needs of other citizens."
Blunt's visit precedes a fourth-grade field trip to Jefferson City in April to visit the Capitol and see other state officials at work. The children learned that one of the hats the secretary of state wears is the keeper of the state seal, which will be one of the highlights of their trip. They will make impressions of it on gold paper they can take home.
During his visit to Clippard, Blunt gave each child a signed document bearing the official seal, telling them the seal was stolen once during the Civil War when Missouri's government, siding with the Confederates, moved to Texas.
Blunt may have swayed some young minds to the prospect of some day running for elected office. Nine-year-old Megan Matlock thought she might like to run for governor, but she may have to compete with Matt Ponder, 10, who is also considering a bid for that office.
"When he came, he made me think of all the guys who work like that," Matt said. "They have to file papers and go to court and things like that."
Kristyn Sanders, 9, asked Blunt how many times he would run for re-election. He answered that he would see how things go.
"I thought it was really cool," she said afterward. "I didn't know what he does and what it's like, and it was cool to find out." One of the things she learned was about the state archive, "where they keep all those old files."
Blunt is optimistic about education in Missouri, he said, and his office makes educational materials available to schools both by mail and on its Web page.
"We need to continue to do things to encourage young Missourians to learn about their government," Blunt said. "Education is not a task we will ever rest from."
335-6611, extension 127