Monday, July 16, 2007

And the children shall lead them...

Happy Monday.

Yes, that's supposed to be an oxymoron -- two mutually exclusive terms. But, as the headline implies, this is about children and leadership, something that some say also is an oxymoron.

Children leading anything may be hard to fathom, especially around New Haven, where hundreds if not thousands of children are not prepared for school. Their parents, or in the case of many of them, their mother, is just now starting to think about preparing their children for learning and wants to know what the city and the school system are going to do about it.

We'll have to discuss that, but not now.

Learning can come anywhere. I learned a lot by watching children playing in or near the water in both rural and an urban settings.

As you know if you read this blog regularly, my wife and I became grandparents for the sixth time last week. We were visiting the new parents to do whatever we could to help.

As you also know if you have spent a lot of time with in close quarters with anyone close to you, no matter how much you love them, you need some time away. So my wife and I took a few hours off one day last week and went to a nearby beach.

It was a wonderful day, warm, sunny, a little breeze blowing and just enough clouds to make the sky heavenlike.

Both my wife and I are writers and we soon started to look around at the scene.

Two things quickly became apparent. First, nothing is as it seems.

Here is this wonderful lake out in the country with a number of houses along one shore. One resident had brought out a book and was sitting on his deck overlooking this lake and reading. We both had the same thought: Wouldn't it be great to own one of those houses?

Just then, a loud train whistle interrupted our reverie and an Amtrak passenger train whooshed by, not a truck's length from the houses' front doors. Pop! went that illusion.

At the same time, we were watching the children, swimming, building in the sand and getting along nicely. The bigger ones were watching out for the smaller kids and everyone was getting along famously.

My thoughts drifted back to Memorial Day weekend at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven. It was warm but too raw a day for swimming in Long Island Sound, but the wonderful water park was operating.

I noticed the same thing -- the bigger kids, some teens and others on the cusp, were playing around, rough-housing as kids do. But when a little kid came close, or when their play sent them near the little kids, the teens began to watch out for the little ones. They made sure the little ones weren't hurt by their play or even by the little ones' own actions.

This is a far cry from the mental image of teens on bicycles wilding around cars near downtown, beating and robbing the occupant. This is a far cry from others shooting at random, putting 9-year-olds in their own living rooms at risk.

What makes kids at the park solicitous of others' safety and the others apparently unconcerned? I wish I knew. But after seeing the city kids and the country kids both behaving in the best way to look after youngsters, it seems as if heredity has less to do with it than environment.

In both instances, the kids were white, African-American, South Asian, Hispanic and what have you. Their race never seems to matter.

I remember when my oldest child, the one who just gave birth, was in high school at The Sound School in New Haven, she was part of a rowing team that was the best in the region. Some of those rowers were blonde girls and others were tough-looking young men who seemed to be out of Central Casting for delinquent lookalikes.

These kids, however, were polite, dedicated, driven to succeed and on one cold day many years ago on Cape Ann, Mass., tought university teams that New Haven kids could outrow them even if they didn't have fancy uniforms and computer-designed boats.

It does seem that kids want to do the right thing. It's up to us as adults to make sure they know what the right thing is. That starts in the home, long before the child is ready for the first day of school.

Until next time...

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