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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Did You Learn All You Really Need to Know in Kindergarten?

Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too, acrylic & tape on canvas, 30"x30", 2006, Stuart Sheldon

My son’s now in kindergarten, so I’m keeping score.

I DO believe we learn most of what we need at this age: sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after ourselves, how to spell A-R-T. But I’m just as jazzed by the things my son is learning outside the classroom. Exceptional and powerful things unique to this moment.

Here are 3 of them:

1. Presidents of the United States are black

For my kindergartener, Obama is not the first black president. He is not a liberal president. A good or bad president. He is simply THE PRESIDENT. My son has only 1 reference point for Commanders-In-Chief. George Bush – never heard of him. George Washington – isn’t he on money or something? Jefferson – nada. But every time we drive past the giant mural in Little Haiti, Kai exclaims, “Barack Obama!” This fills me with optimism that the current century is not going to be as hate-filled as the last. Perhaps, because much of our doe-eyed youth never inhaled the poison air of Jim Crow, its toxins will not enter their bloodstream as so many generations before.

2. Technology is a dependable friend

We’ve never showed our 3 & 5-yr-olds how to use the iPad, but they cruise on that thing like they’re Steve Jobs’ love children. They get it. They know it. They dig it. They have an independence unique to their generation – the ability, in seconds, to learn to tie a bowline knot or bake mango bread or read the Gettysburg Address. Mind you, we’re not give-the-kids-the-iPhone-and-shut-them-up-at-dinner types. We’re all about reading real books. And discussing the world. We limit screen time during the week, prohibit mindless, shoot-em-up games and have tech-free Saturdays. Still, despite my love-hate relationship with tech, I marvel at my kids’ fearless enthusiasm and intuitive dexterity on these devices. Did someone put a chip in their head when I was doing our taxes on the abacus?

Play outside

3. People have 2 daddies

“I saw Sebastien today at the store,” my wife told Kai, referring to one of his classmates. “The one with the two daddies?” asked Kai, as he kicked off his shoes and socks. “No, the one with the two mommies,” said Jodi. Another time, Kai came home and said, “Boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls.” What was most notable about these exchanges was not the content but the nonchalance with which my kindergartener engaged in them. Two daddies, Two mommies … whatever, to my boy there was no moral judgment. He might as well have been talking about the color of their hair. In my son’s school of fifty kids, there are five same-sex parents. While the world tries to get its arms around this “new normal,” for my boy it’s simply normal. No big whoop. And here again we see the seeds of the magnificent big-tent garden taking root.

Be More Like Flowers, acrylic and paper on canvas, 48"x60", 2004, Stuart Sheldon

Be More Like Flowers, acrylic and paper on canvas with original poetry, 48″x60″, 2004, Stuart Sheldon

Speaking of gardens, here’s another thing I want my sons to learn:

Be More Like Flowers

Wonderful the flowers

 Each year they appear

And request nothing


Don’t get me wrong, my kindergartener is far from a perfectly evolved citizen. He hits us with a whiny “I’m bored” more often than is acceptable (which is never). We fight to keep him aware of his privilege and the humility and service that must accompany it. Still, he truly does hold the key to a better society.

He judges people on the content of their character.

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