All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten–The Political Version

Whew! Mercifully the impeachment proceedings are now over and Americans can move on to the next political brouhaha. With all the divisiveness and sniping, it’s a wonder our elected officials in Washington have time to think about running the country. What the American political world needs now is to go, not back to the future, but back to the basics. And when I say basic, I mean BASIC. As in kindergarten basic.

New York Times best-selling author Robert Fulghum had the right idea in his immensely popular book, All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”  He explained that adhering to the basic rules we learned way back in kindergarten serves us well in the adult world. Since squabbling politicians are acting like kindergarteners, perhaps they could use a refresher course in Kindergarten 101.

Kindergarten is a year for learning the basics. Subsequent school years build on the foundations set at the very beginning of a student’s academic life. Don’t believe me? Think you’d pass driver’s ed in high school if you don’t know a red light from a green light? Sure kindergarteners learn their colors and numbers, but they also learn some very important principles about social behavior. Let’s consider some of the lessons they learn and how those lessons might help our elected representatives.

LESSON #1: Respect Authority

Unsurprisingly, the very first lesson youngsters learn is to respect authority. The teacher is in charge, and they are not. Students might not like Mrs. Smith, but they have to respect her position at the school. They are perfectly free to think she is mean, dumb, unfair, etc., but she’s still sitting at the desk in the front of the class and running the show. Things go more smoothly if the relationship is cordial. Starting off the day by sticking their tongue out at her is not likely to make their day go well.

Raise your hand if you think politicians are respectful of authority today. They simply aren’t. Anyone who belongs to a different political party, is on the other side of a controversial issue, or who is a block to achieving a political goal is likely to be called names, talked down to, etc. Starting with the president and working our way down an elected official of the smallest town, each of these representatives deserve respect for serving on the people’s behalf. It’s not about who they are, what they look like, where they come from, or how they got the position. It’s the fact they are in the position. You don’t have to like them; just show their position some respect.


A second lesson kindergarteners quickly learn is to follow the rules. Breaking the rules leads to consequences they won’t like. They might not get to go to recess, they might have to go talk to the principal, or they might have to sit in time out. If a student doesn’t like a rule, then there is an acceptable way (another rule) to go about changing that rule.

The current mindset for politicians is that rules (translate laws) were meant to be broken. The ends justify the means. If it gets them elected or keeps them in office, who cares if it is illegal? But the rule (law) is there for a reason. What if we didn’t have any rules? What if everyone could pick and choose which rules they wanted to follow?


One of the hardest things for young children to learn is to share. Apparently adults have a hard time with this concept as well. In a kindergarten classroom, there will only be a certain number of purple crayons, and that number will undoubtedly be less than the number of students wanting to color with them. With sharing, every student might get an opportunity to use the much coveted crayon color. Hoarding of the crayons by a few will lead to hard feelings and run-ins.

Politicians don’t have crayons to share, but they might be in a better frame of mind if they took some time to chill and do some adult coloring. What politicians do have is experience, knowledge, resources, connections, and information. Using these items collaboratively would lead to a better outcome for all. Hoarding any of these things can cause anything from hard feelings all the way up to a lawsuit or investigation.

LESSON #4: Listen

What’s easier said than done? To listen. Kindergarteners can’t wait to get their two cents worth in and will interrupt fellow students as well as their teacher. Moreover, they may not pay attention to what is said because they are not interested; the bug crawling on the wall is enthralling while the teacher droning on about what she wants the students to do is boring. But failing to listen means the student may not receive important information, i.e., we can go to recess early if you put your books away.

Sure politicians will listen; however, that is generally only to themselves or to someone who can do something for them such as make a campaign contribution. Putting their “listening ears” on as my mother always told me to do, might give them some surprising insight into what their staff, colleagues, and constituents want or how they are feeling. And if the politicians take the time to listen, they might find that others will then be willing to listen to them.

LESSON #5: Don’t Hit People

Kindergarten is a year when youngsters learn to control their actions. They are told, “Don’t hit people.” That admonition may be followed by the comment, “It’s not nice.” Kindergarteners may not care about or understand being nice, but they do learn that hitting others usually has negative consequences. They may be hit back by their victim and they may suffer repercussions from authority figures, i.e., the teacher, the principal, or their parents.

Politicians don’t generally go around hitting people because battery, of course, is not legal. But they think nothing of verbally assaulting each other, particularly on Twitter. Saying mean things on Twitter has led to the trend of politicians reading aloud mean tweets made about them. Well, it’s better to use the insult to get a laugh than to retaliate in kind.

Robert Fulghum astutely put the situation this way: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” How united are we in the United States if politicians are bashing each other with words and inflicting emotional harm? How about not speaking, tweeting, or posting anything that is a verbal jab? You can disagree without being disagreeable–my mother told me so during my kindergarten year and for many years afterwards.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are politicians currently acting like kindergarteners? Which of the above kindergarten lessons do politicians today need to learn most? Which of these lessons do you yourself need to learn?