Sassos: Presidential candidates would fail kindergarten

(Indianapolis Star, March 11, 2016)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes an appearance prior to the start of play during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral Blue Monster Course on March 6 in Doral, Fla.

We had thought of encouraging our grandchildren to listen to the presidential debates. We wanted them to learn about what it means to be a citizen in a democracy. Even if they were too young to understand all the issues, they could witness a civic conversation. It didn’t take us long to change our minds. The very things our grandchildren were being taught in kindergarten and elementary school, were being brutally contradicted on the television screen.

It is often said that everything you needed to know, you learned in kindergarten. Clearly, many of our Republican candidates must not have attended. Here are some of the lessons 5 year olds are taught:

Respect others who are different than you and with whom you disagree: Living in a democracy means participating in a society where diversity of opinion and respectful dialogue help us to analyze and critique issues so that we might arrive at constructive and cooperative solutions. Insult and bullying, the denigration and demonization of others tear at the civil fabric of society. How do we tell our children to refrain from name calling, when some who wish to hold the highest office in our nation call their opponents pathetic, idiot, liar, loser and jerk?

The purpose of education is to encourage the rich imaginations of children and to provide them with the skills to access and evaluate the information they receive. The role of a teacher is not only to correct misinformation but to challenge children to ask incisive questions and to keep an open mind. We want our sons and daughters to learn impulse control, to listen while others are speaking, to wait for their turn.

Some presidential candidates must have been absent from those lessons. They do not allow one another to finish their sentences. If they disagree, they interrupt. Ultimately, the debate becomes a contest not of opinions but of who can speak the loudest, who can more effectively drown out and put down their opponent or interviewer.

Think before you speak: As pedagogues we encourage students to resist blurting out the first answer that comes to mind. Instead, before they answer a question, we ask for thought and reflection to overcome abrasiveness and impulse. We teach them to avoid temper tantrums. Basic kindergarten education aims at teaching self-control; making space for others.

Some of our candidates hardly model this elementary trait of human decency. They have threatened to leave the podium if not appropriately recognized; others have refused to share the rostrum because they have felt the questions posed to them were unfair.

Do not use toilet words: When our children use profanity, we require them to take a time out. When they shout to get attention, we say that they are not ready to be part of the class. How do we tell our young not to use four letter words, when politicians spew profanity and insult without embarrassment?

Are we prepared to consider for chief executive of our country, for commander in chief of our Armed Forces, one who has not mastered the elementary traits of behavior that we expect from our children in kindergarten? When will we say, “time out’; you are not ready to take part in this serious contest on whose outcome the very life of our country and the world depends?

We have reason to worry when our most important national conversation is X-rated; when mendacity and anger trump facts and reason, when complexity is replaced by stereotype, when hatred feeds fear and lies betray facts. Perhaps a week in kindergarten may help our candidates attain some wisdom and develop some character.