An invitation to 4th-graders — and history buffs |

An invitation to 4th-graders — and history buffs

Those of you who have read any of the Harry Potter books have

some idea what it’s like to visit a place where the past, the present and

the future can occur at the same time. Well, it turns out you don’t have to go all the way to Hogwarts to have that experience.

Why? Because something like that happens almost every day at the state Capitol in Sacramento. Best of all, you don’t have take my word for it — you can check it out yourself.

Inside the Capitol building you’ll find rooms that have been restored to

look exactly as they once did. You’ll see the office where Gov. George

Pardee was sitting in 1906 when he learned about San Francisco’s deadly

earthquake. You’ll sit in the balcony of the green Assembly or red Senate

chambers, where elected representatives from throughout the state vote on the laws that affect your life every day, from the helmet you wear to ride your bike, to the number of days you have to be in school.

Think of it this way, if you’d been born in 1892 instead of 1992, there’s a fair chance you wouldn’t have made it as far as the fourth grade. In fact, you might never have gone to school at all.

Instead, you might have spent your childhood working 12 hours a day in a crowded factory for a few pennies. But some people had the idea that

childhood should be spent learning and playing and getting ready to take on the responsibilities of growing up. So they wrote laws saying that you couldn’t make a child work like an adult and that all children must go to school.

Those laws were put to a vote and a majority of the elected representatives agreed. Since then, labor laws have protected the children of California and every child is guaranteed a basic education.

We think it’s important for you find out how these changes occur. That’s why learning about California government is part of what’s taught in every fourth-grade classroom statewide — and it’s why we want you to come visit.

We’ve made sure you’ll have a good time. You’ll also learn something about how our system of government works.

For example, there’s a new film in the museum that suggests what it’s like to walk down hallways that flow with history. We’ve got tour guides from the Department of Parks and Recreation who tell countless stories about the historic building and will show you how things used to be and how they’re changing every day.

Just this year, the state installed two monuments on the Capitol’s front

steps honoring the contributions of Native American and Hispanic

Californians. You’ll discover that history isn’t just something that

happened a long time ago. It’s happening right now, and you’re a part of it.

We understand that not everyone is able to get to Sacramento, so we’ve come up with a way of bringing the state Capitol to you. There’s a new Web site at where you can take a virtual tour of the building and its gardens. From a computer with Internet access, you can design your own tour, walk down the halls or explore the rotunda, seeing exactly what you’d see if you were here.

You’ll also be able to learn about how bills become laws, who your elected officials are, how to contact them and other ways to be involved in the decisions of the future.

And speaking of the future, that’s where you fit into the ongoing story of our state Capitol. In about 10 years you’ll be turning 18 and you’ll have the right to help decide who gets to make those important decisions.

In fact, you or someone you know could end up working here, creating the next chapter in the history of California’s State Capitol.

So come and visit. And by the way, in case they’re wondering, your parents are welcome, too!

Robert M. Hertzberg was elected to the California Assembly in 1996 and served as speaker from 2000-02. His Web site is

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