By Arthur H. Gunther III
Anywhere, USA -- Last week in Upper Nyack, N.Y., it was the first day of school, and three new kindergarteners were posed by a mom in front of the building sign, a posterity shot, but also mom’s wish upon a star. Behind them was the door that would open to their future. Elsewhere in Anywhere, USA, you could substitute color, ethnicity, religion, place, yes, but everywhere there were kids beginning the climb to adulthood. Will passage through all the doors of the elementary, middle school and high school years be as accessible? And when the youngsters of kindergarten America 2012 graduate in 2030, what will their futures be?
If there could be one campaign poster for the Republican and Democratic presidential runs, for Congress, state legislature, the local dogcatcher, it should be that mom’s photo from Anywhere USA. All the talk about tax rates, Social Security, greed, special interests, wars of choice, political ideology, health care, college expenses and immigration are in words these new kindergarteners do not understand. The fortunate among them can write their names, and they use the words of playtime -- super heroes, “Hello Kitty,” Disneyland. Other youngsters hear harsh words of threat and fear in circumstances that should not be tolerated.
What words will these next-year first graders hear and see and write? And in the eight grade? In 12th? Will they be those of the Horatio Algers of a nation that once had an endless frontier and much opportunity to succeed? Will they be the words of war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who so deeply shared the soul of citizen soldiers gone to battle but eager to return to home and hearth becaue that was the true democracy? Will they be the words of inspiring, articulate leaders who also led? Will they be the words of national allegiance and unity but with respect for differences of opinion? Most of all, will their words be of aspiration and trust, of caring, of growing confidence that when they work hard, they will do good for nation, family, self, that their faith will not be misused, abused even, by any business or government action without ethics?
We adults see a kindergartener as simple, uncomplicated, yet it may be the most complex time in life for any. When they walk through the school door, the nurturing is more greatly assumed by the trust parents have put in the system -- school, government, society, all managed by adults who some day will step aside for these now kindergarteners.
Will the smiles on that first-day school photo in Everywhere, Anywhere, USA, remain and be reflective of national trust that assures our young they will be well-tucked-in each night? That is job one in any election, and now more so that ever.