What I Learned in Kindergarten

Things My Mother Taught Me.

When I went to college, I remember a poster with a kitten hanging onto a branch that read “Hang in there!” I also saw a lot of posters of U2, Tom Cruise, and Madonna gracing dorm walls everywhere.

One poster I had that I still remember was a colorful, text-heavy print entitled “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

To my eighteen-year-old self it seemed quaintly insightful. As a mom, it seems like a crib sheet for Parenting 101.

Stephanie in college in front of her favorite poster.
My roomy giving me a cake for my birthday – and there, in the background, the poster! And yes, it was the 80s. Hair was just bigger then.

My mother, a kindergarten and primary school teacher for almost 30 years, taught these rules to her students and to me. My husband and I did our best to model these basic precepts and teach them to our daughters. But, if these rules are so basic, why are they so clearly ignored or forgotten in so much of today’s public discourse?

Gone are the days of sirs and ma’am’s, of orators like MLK and JFK, of agreeing to politely disagree.

As various public figures fight to grab our attention, the norms of civil behavior are often sidelined in favor of angry sound bites, careless tweets, and microphone hoarding. I cringe when I think that kids hear this type of thing and think it’s okay.

Stephanie's mother with her kindergarten class.
My mom loves music, so each year she would stage a musical or two with her class. Single-handedly, she would teach them the songs and choreography, make costumes and sets, and play the piano in accompaniment. Amazing!

As a future public servant, I want to change that. Our leaders should be role models for civil behavior and thoughtful action, and as such, I offer these additions to those basic rules on that well-worn poster from my college days. These are supplemental rules that our public officials should strive to live by:

  • Gather facts and data.
  • Take time to learn all sides of an issue before offering an opinion.
  • Invite everyone to the table. Give them a chance to talk. Listen.
  • Be flexible. Modify your thinking when given new, relevant information.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Work together to create solutions.
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated – remembering that you hate being treated poorly.

I pledge to follow these rules. I know my mom would be proud and my constituents well-served. What about your current elected officials? Have they learned what they need to know? Would their moms and kindergarten teachers be proud?