Michael Elkin, our guest author for this post, says he writes from “the perspective of a non-Quaker who finds the Quaker educational system incredible.” We welcome his encouraging commentary.
Michael Elkin is a features and op-ed columnist writing for papers nationwide.
To paraphrase Robert Fulghum, all I ever needed to really know I learned in kindergarten.
Which is why I’m going back there.
But as a father of a toddler, I’m not doing it for my daughter; I’m doing it for me.
For as I attend parent-teacher conferences and meet and greet fellow new dads and moms at Abington Friends School, I’ve come to realize there is something about childhood surroundings that brings out the child in adults—not the obnoxious, me-me-me kick-in-in-the-knee kind of kid, but the innocent niceness that one associates with newbies to the world.
And it all shows up in their parents.
As the dad of a pre-K about-to-enter-K kid, I mix and match with grown-ups of all walks of life at AFS, nodding and smiling “good days” to strangers I would normally grump at if I saw them on the street. Not that they deserve the grumps; far from it. But the mean streets of Real Life really can turn the expression “let a smile be your umbrella” inside out faster than a gale wind.
Here, I hold open doors—and have them held open for me—when a person is not even close to walking through it; yet, hold it open I do. In Real Life, I would probably slam the door in that person’s face when they were within inches of grabbing it, my uttering an “I’m sorry” expiating me from sin.
And I’m not a bad person. Really. I’m actually, I’ve been told, a pleasant, nice man.
At school, hustling my daughter to class, I find that time stands still. Even if I’m late, I stop to chat with this father, that mother—people I would barely acknowledge in Real Life out of fear of being trampled over by time.
But here we unwind; we shake off the soot of urban urges and allow each other seats in a crowded classroom where we are finding out about our children’s progress. Bonfires of the vanities do die down into ashes when children are concerned and there is a veritable niceness that comes out when laughing and gloating over our kids’ accomplishments.
Is it because we’re serving as role models so that our children won’t be corrupted early on by the evil influences of the cold harsh truth that is the world? Or is it that our children are actually the role models, allowing us to dig down deep into souls that have been steel traps for years, allowing their innocent perspectives to spring those traps open and let the sun shine in?
Whatever it is, it feels good. And nice—fostered by the Quaker ethos. And as I prepare to leave a concert put on by the pre-Ks one day, I see in the distance someone I know from the Real World, a curmudgeon if ever there was one. This is my chance to get even after all these years, which I decide to do.
And as I am about to pass him in the hall, he turns and says, “Good Morning.”
And what can I do but say, “The same to you.”
See, I think, what happens when you mix with kindergarteners?
They’ve ruined me for good, I smile, holding open one more door for a mother maybe two miles away from the entrance.