Backstory: Cherry picking as civics lesson
Some inner-city kids haven't even tasted a cherry, but if George Washington chopped a cherry tree, it's 'official' for them.
(Page 2 of 2)
Marcus and classmate Eric Seaborn testified in support of the cherry. Eric told the legend of Washington and the cherry tree, while Marcus talked about the festival. Metaphorical connection is enough, they argue. States don't need to produce a fruit to make it official. The metaphor loophole didn't help the marionberry, a fruit suggested by some Washington residents for the word play on Marion Barry, the council member and two-time mayor (in)famous for returning to office after a drug-related scandal. Cropp anticipated the marionberry lobby and said early on that no council member could be chosen as the official fruit - a decision that also eliminated Councilman Vincent Orange.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
State symbols have been around for a century. Alan Rosenthal, a state legislature expert at Rutgers University, counts more than 75 categories of symbols ranging from the obvious (official bird or tree) to the superfluous (official cookie or yacht).
"It might appear that states have adopted too many symbols," Mr. Rosenthal wrote in State Legislatures magazine. "But the fact is that over the years, the 50 states have enacted only 575 symbols into law." That's an average of one symbol adopted per decade for every state, including the official cooking pot in Utah (the Dutch oven) and fossil in Nebraska (the mammoth).
Symbols are picked to boost a state's identity and its industries. Some end up on license plates.
The number of proposals today is lower than in the early 20th century, says Benjamin Shearer, author of a book on state symbols. He surmises that legislators are more sensitive to criticism of wasting taxpayers' money on frivolous matters.
Indeed, some D.C. residents wish the council focused on bigger issues. And Bunton admits an official fruit isn't going to solve city ills, but it could teach children they can effect change: "They're kids from the projects - they are very poor. Having a disability makes it even harder to understand the first disadvantage. That is almost insurmountable."
Real cherries may not grow in D.C., but Bunton's students say there are plenty in pies, candy, or atop whipped cream on sundaes. And even if some prefer pears, watermelons, or bananas, they agree on their choice for D.C.
A fourth-grade class in Michigan also chose the cherry for their state, which is the nation's largest tart cherry producer in the country and places in the top five in sweet cherry production. Traverse City, Mich., is the "Cherry Capital of the World" and host to The National Cherry Festival, which is about fruit, not flowers.
"There's more to the story than just a 'feel good' bill," says Michigan state Rep. Paula Zelenko, sponsor of the bill. "As a mother of six daughters and [grandmother of] six granddaughters, I am well aware that children learn best by example. Whether the final outcome is law or not, it is a subject matter that the children can relate to and better follow the process." She doesn't see Michigan and D.C. as competitors - there are plenty of cherries to go around.
But not everyone in Bunton's class is convinced. "They're stealing our stuff," suggests student Michael Wanzor, rousing discussion of the pros and cons of shared official fruit.
What about Utah? "That was way back," says Sheldon McFadden, motioning authoritatively behind him. "We are doing it now. [Michigan] can do it another time."
Classmate Ethel Burnette is more diplomatic: "If we both thought of the cherry, that can only be good for the cherry."
Neither Sheldon nor Ethel have ever tasted the fruit they champion.