State beans and state tartans! Too many symbols? The Rhode Island legislature is considering making the American burying beetle the official state insect. At left is a red-tailed hawk (AP photo / Wikimedia Commons)
State beans and state tartans! Too many symbols?
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Whoopie pies, the K4s steam locomotive, the Carolina Shag and Harney silt loam share a common bond: Each is a treasured member of what some say is an out-of-control state symbol club.

New Hampshire lawmakers recently shot down an effort by some fourth graders. They had proposed to name the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor. Publicly, the politicians got pasted as insensitive bullies. But some say the legislators have a point. After all, the state already has an official tree, bird, dog, animal, insect, amphibian, butterfly, saltwater fish, freshwater fish, rock, mineral, gem and yes, tartan.

Maybe, they argue, lawmakers' time would be better spent tackling things like budgets, taxes and education.

State Rep. John Burt is known for annually hosting Hot Dog Day on the statehouse lawn. It is held to raise money for animal advocacy groups. During the hawk debate, he argued that lawmakers had more important work to do. He poked fun at himself in the process. He declared that soon the state would name an official hot dog.

"It was to get a point across. That if we have these bird bills, we have to stop these and tell the teacher, 'I know you want to mean well and you want to encourage your kids and you should. But you shouldn't be taking up our precious time,'" said Burt.

New Hampshire's list of official tokens is far from the lengthiest. Oklahoma has 45 state symbols. They include five separate state foods. For example, the state bean - black eyed peas. And there's six separate meals, including chicken fried steak. There were more than 70 pieces of this type of legislation nationwide this year. Many were brought by students engaged in a civics lesson. They wanted to name everything from the official Alaska state hostess, Miss Alaska, to the official legendary creature in Wyoming, the jackalope. (Alas, the jackalope passed the House but died in the Senate.) Massachusetts has nine bills to name symbols this year, including the official tai chi form.

Whose idea was this, anyway? According to State Symbols USA, a "National Garland of Flowers" created for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair inspired states to adopt official floral emblems. It kicked off the trend of naming official stuff.

Controversy over the honorifics isn't new.

In Hawaii last year, lawmakers couldn't decide whether the ukulele or steel guitar should be the official state instrument. The measure provoked a chorus of harrumphs. It got snarled in legislative wrangling. In the end, the legislature passed the legislation this year. The ukulele became the official modern instrument and the pahu drum the official historic instrument.

Dave Alcox has been a social studies teacher for 19 years. He is on the board of the New Hampshire Council for Social Studies. He teaches civic engagement and values it as a vital tool for getting young people involved. But he completely understands legislators who say these kinds of bills can be a real drag on time.

Alcox gets his kids involved in other ways: They invite lawmakers or the governor to speak to a class. Or the students can attend a speaking forum with past Supreme Court justices.

"You try to balance that 'let's have a teachable moment,' versus 'let's not try to tie up too much time,'" he said.

New Hampshire's lawmakers are not the only ones to think that just maybe they ought to cool it on the symbols: This year, Missouri is considering a bill to limit the number of state symbols to 28.

Critical thinking challenge: How might limiting the number of state symbols make things better for everyone?

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COMMENTS (11)
  • BeckettN-2
    4/07/2015 - 04:44 p.m.

    This article is about how many states have too many state symbols. Most states have a state animal and flower, but some have a state everything which really slows down lawmaking systems. I think states should have some but not too many state symbols.

  • Colby N Turquoise
    4/07/2015 - 05:29 p.m.

    Limiting the amount of state symbols will most likely prevent states from having to many "Official State..." and it would clear up more time to manage other more important things, instead of who gets what animal.

  • SabrinaD3
    4/07/2015 - 06:51 p.m.

    State symbols are getting out of control! In Oklahoma there are 45 state symbols, including a state bean. In New Hampshire local government erupted when the senate shot down a fourth-graders attempt to create a state raptor. State symbols create so much controversy within the government some states like Missouri are thinking of putting a limit on state symbols.
    I think the amount of state symbols are ridiculous. I don't understand why every state needs a specific shrub or bird of prey to represent it.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/07/2015 - 07:07 p.m.

    I think that it is cool for America to have a lot of symbols because of something that this famous to their state all because of using their wisdom to find out that they saw would say that this is the symbol for their country/states. Well if somebody saw something that is the perfect for their country/state, I think that made America to have a lot of symbols.

  • joshuat2015
    4/08/2015 - 12:15 p.m.

    it would be better because we would know what the symbol is and it would not have many in the state and would be better for the symbols

  • Brady_TwenniWan
    4/10/2015 - 01:11 a.m.

    Limiting the number of state symbols allowed is a great idea, because they are completely a waste of time. So once we get them out of the way we don't have to worry about it. Does a state flower even matter? Sure a state animal is cool but a flower or a bird or any other sub category aren't necessary. Shouldn't our legislature be handling more important things that involve unemployment rates being lowered, tax breaks, or housing the homeless.

  • Alec B. 12
    4/16/2015 - 12:17 a.m.

    In the state of California I have noticed we too have many state symbols for the most random categories. I think New Hampshire lawmakers were right to shoot down the proposition for a state raptor. The article stated many thought the lawmakers were being bullies, but some thought they were doing the right thing. "Maybe, they argue, lawmakers' time would be better spent tackling things like budgets, taxes and education." I certainly agree. It seems so pointless to take up any amount of time for a reason as silly as that. In Oklahoma, there are 45 state symbols many for just different types of foods. It seems like people just say, "Oh would you look at that bird. That's Missouri's state bird, right?"
    "No, I don't believe it is a state symbol."
    "Well then, why don't we make it our state bird?" No, wait we already have a state bird. We'll make the state finch!"
    At some point it seems that when everything is a state symbol none of the important ones, or any of them for that matter, are special anymore.

  • carolinep102
    4/18/2015 - 03:34 p.m.

    Just in my opinion I would not want to have a beetle as my sate animal! I think the hawk would be a lot cooler. I also think that the legislators have a point about keeping what is already done that way but think they should listen to the children and enforce their opinion and dedication to their state, town, and community!

  • John0724-YYCA
    5/07/2015 - 09:08 p.m.

    I never knew that states had so many symbols because I thought the symbols were only animal, flower, and bird but there is a whole lot and even there is a state tartan which is really weird because a tartan is just like a piece of cloth and I think that the tartans are all same except for the color. I want to know all the symbols for America and I really don't know why people want to decrease the symbols because I think that having more symbols are good except for the part that you can lose track of the symbols because there are so many.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    6/25/2015 - 05:56 p.m.

    I agree with too much state symbols would be too much because it can be confusing. If it was kept like this, then on a test in the future, it would be confusing to students. The state has too many symbols so it is confusing to know what they are. It would be annoying to teachers and students. It is hard to believe that the origin of state symbols was supposed to be about flowers.
    Critical thinking challenge: How might limiting the number of state symbols make things better for everyone?
    Answer: Limiting the number of state symbols makes things better for everyone by settling disputes that people may have about state symbols.

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