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"Did Not" "Did So!" Children, Children

by Julia Sneden

The year 2000 began with a marvelous, good-humored bash, all around the world. What a pity that it also happens to be an election year in this country, a coincidence bound to spoil the fun. Gone is all that 'auld acquaintance' stuff. Gone is the splash of playful celebration that had puppets weaving through Times Square, and, in Paris, the Eiffel Tower all lit up like a rocket. Gone from this country is good will and brotherhood, at least for the duration of this election year 
      Whats left is plenty of fireworks. This time theyre of the verbal variety, which means theyre nowhere near as much fun as those sparkles over Sydney harbor. 
      The primaries have given us just the first taste of the miserable noise that will take over our lives for the next few months. Egged on by the media, the candidates will indulge in name-calling, hair-splitting, scape-goating, and repeated verbal assaults that are the stuff of soap opera. It reminds me of nothing so much as the kindergarten classes I taught for twenty-five years.
      I came late to the business of teaching little children. For the first few years after college, I had another career, as a very junior member of the editorial departments of a magazine and a couple of motion picture studios. I backed into the kindergarten classroom following the 12-year hiatus given to rearing my children. I needed a job to pay the boys tuition at a wonderful school, and teaching fit in with their schedule. I never expected to fall in love with the job, but I did.
      Having reared three boys, I was up to speed on child development theories. Teaching the pre-reading curriculum was a snap, and the teachers manual for the math program was specific and reassuring: nothing there I couldnt handle. What I lacked was what educators refer to as classroom management skills, i.e. how to handle those dreadful moments when children act likewell, like children. Were it not for the wise guidance of my peers, I would have dropped out in a month. There are some very good ways to cope with undesirable behavior in kindergartners, and over the period of 25 years, I became remarkably adept at identifying problems and dealing with them. What continues to amaze me is that the problems of five-year-olds show up so readily later on in life. Some of the solutions continue to work, too.
  Several years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote his book All That I Needed To Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.  I think that in this election year I, too, could write a book.  Id call it: People Are People, in Kindergarten or Primaries.

KINDERGARTEN
Name Calling: Big Fat Stinky! Dookie Ball 
CAMPAIGN
 Liar Liberal Reactionary the heir apparent he's a Bill Clinton



KINDERGARTEN
Shifting the blame
He made me do it! 
CAMPAIGN
I am only responding to my opponents negative advertising.

KINDERGARTEN
Scape-goating: Its his fault!
CAMPAIGN
I had no idea that one of my supporters said that.


KINDERGARTEN
Bargaining: Ill stop if he will
CAMPAIGN
Ill stop if he will.


KINDERGARTEN
Denial: Not me!
CAMPAIGN
I absolutely never said (did) (thought) that!

KINDERGARTEN
Dirty tricks: Hiding the teachers glasses
CAMPAIGN
Tampering with the opponents amplifier

KINDERGARTEN
Threats: Ill tell my mother on you!
CAMPAIGN
I think the IRS would be interested in that.

KINDERGARTEN
Temper tantrum: Thisll show em!
CAMPAIGN
Thisll show em!

KINDERGARTEN
Hypocrisy: I didnt do that, but if someone does, he should be sent to the principal!
CAMPAIGN
Yes, we need controls on campaign fund-raising.

KINDERGARTEN
Impulsiveness: Oops! I didnt mean that!
CAMPAIGN
Oops! What I really meant was

KINDERGARTEN
Taking the high moral ground:
Its not right to be rude.
CAMPAIGN
My opponents need to be held accountable for their actions.


KINDERGARTEN
Bragging: My Dads bigger than your dad.
CAMPAIGN
My accomplishments are well known

KINDERGARTEN
Skewing results: Getting all the little girls to block-vote against the little boys
CAMPAIGN
Allowing  Democrats to vote in a Republican primary

KINDERGARTEN
Interrupting:  I know Im supposed to raise my hand, but
CAMPAIGN
See debate footage.

KINDERGARTEN
Gloating: Nanny-nanny-boo-boo
CAMPAIGN
I dont want to rub it in, but

KINDERGARTEN
Tattling: Teeeeacher!
CAMPAIGN
America, I want you to know that this man is leading you straight to

KINDERGARTEN
Threats: Im gonna tell on you!
CAMPAIGN
Im going to tell the whole world

KINDERGARTEN
Impugning anothers record: In nursery class, he always told lies
CAMPAIGN
and his senate voting record denies his current stance

KINDERGARTEN
Promises: Tomorrow Im gonna build the worlds biggest block tower! Itll be humongous!
CAMPAIGN
And if I am elected

      Face it. Its as the French say:  Plus ca change, plus cest la meme chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.) What we really need is a master teacher who can handle these kids. In a classroom, there are certain tactics that have proven effective in dealing with obstreperous children. Some of them might even work on politicians.

1. Simplifying rules. After a long discussion of what one should and should not do to get along in a kindergarten, my classes and I usually came up with one simple, blanket rule: No Hurting. That meant no hurting peoples feelings as well as their bodies, and no hurting the physical surroundings or equipment. No hurting another persons right to her own space, or her right to be heard. Often when one child would interrupt another, the others would cry in unison: Blanket Rule!  Can you picture our presidential candidates quietly defusing tense situations by murmuring Blanket Rule?  O well.

2. A teachers intervention. Many a squabble has been settled when a teacher steps in and simply says: I dont care who started it. Im interested in who is going to stop it. Too bad there arent any teachers in the political arena. Maybe the moderators of debates could fulfill the function.

3. Ignoring. This isnt always easy when a child is throwing a tantrum, but it always works. I suppose the only way to translate the tactic into a political campaign would be to persuade the media to ignore (and I mean completely) all candidates who are behaviorally about two years old.

4. Time Out. Wouldnt it be great if we could have the equivalent of a time out chair for unruly politicians?

5. Peer Review. This is not my favorite tactic. It can be cruel. One simply says to the class: What do you think Johnnys problem is? What would you suggest to help him solve it? Politicians dont need a teacher to ask those questions. They are already accomplished at reviewing each other. Its what campaigning is all about. And it takes from now until November 7th.

6.  Distraction. This involves swift interjection of a mind-engaging question, like: Shut your eyes. Quick! No peeking! How many windows are in this room? or If two cows have four horns, how many horns do four cows have? Actually, this sounds like what the moderators of the debates do already.

7.   Busy Work. Let the troublemakers do Venetian blind duty, or wipe the board, or feed the fish. This could translate to giving the candidates more babies to kiss, ships to christen, baseballs to throw, ground breakings to attend, etc. ad nauseam. 

         And, when all else fails?

8.   A Trip To The Principals Office.  Some things just cant be handled in the classroom. For political candidates, Im not sure there is an equivalent to being sent to the principal. After all, you cant impeach em until after you elect em. Dont get me wrong. None of the above will keep me away from the polls this year. You dont hang around the kindergarten as long as I did unless youre a true believer.

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