We’ve all been told that children were the future, that our generation mattered, and that our education was paramount. Now we’re grown-ups, and we lost that sense of amazement all children seem to never have enough of. As I sat my jaded self down on some subway seat on wednesday, facing my equally cynical friends with rings under their eyes, a little five-year old and his nanny sat next to us. The little kid just stared at me. It was cute, then disturbing. He then proceeded to tug on my arm and looked so puzzled and quizzical, I felt like I possessed all the answers to the questions that were probably running around in his head at the speed of light.

one of the letters compiled by Jory John. © New York Times

one of the letters compiled by Jory John. © New York Times

Only thing I could think of saying was yes, indeed, kiddo, this is a screwed up world, and I needed to get off at the next station.

But see, it would be the end of the story for most of us; it simply isn’t for children, with their endless string of “how’s” and “why’s”. This is how the New York Times’ daily Op-Ed contribution has managed to compile the best possible letters from children to President-Elect Barack Obama, containing everything from heartfelt congratulations to spot-on demands. From what I’ve been reading in this op-ed by Jory John, children could be the most inspiring part of our population. Take that, Rick Warren. Here are a few examples:

Dear Sir Obama,

These are the first 10 things you should do as president:

1. Make everyone read books.
2. Don’t let teachers give kids hard homework.
3. Make a law where kids only get one page of homework per week.
4. Kids can go visit you whenever they want.
5. Make volunteer tutors get paid.
6. Let the tutors do all the thinking.
7. Make universities free.
8. Make students get extra credit for everything.
9. Give teachers raises.
10. If No. 4 is approved, let kids visit the Oval Office, but don’t make it boring.

— Mireya Perez, age 8, San Francisco

See, this is where Mireya Perez is teaching us how to re-focus budget constraints into long-lasting, resourceful and egalitarian pockets such as, you know, education, in a country where functional illiteracy is reaching an all-time high and student loan are plaguing the lives of young graduates, paralyzing their entry into professional activity and forcing them to make the suicidal move to enroll in the military in order to pay for college tuition. Mireya Perez may be only eight years old, but during her short life, she has already understood that giving strong education – which goes through qualified staff in appropriate number in a properly funded environment – is the base on which one builds a smart, advanced and modern nation. I wish Mireya knew had to write back when George W. Bush started his No Child Is Left Behind bill (and failed to fund it).

I also believe that request no. 4 might be the most democratic demand ever. Barack Obama based his “Yes We Can” campaign on a hands-on, democratic approach that requested everyone’s involvement not only in his election goals, but in the financial support to his campaign. In a very Kennedy-like decision (“I’m asking you not just to believe in my ability to bring about change in Washington… I’m asking you to believe in yours”), Barack Obama promised to never lose touch with the grassroots and access the public opinion’s demands. I’m sure that if Mireya Perez is given the opportunity to check in with the White House staff every week, Obama won’t stray away from his party line.

Dear President Obama,

If I were president, I would tell people to not talk too much. It wastes time. I’d also say to war: no more, no more, no more!

— Catherine Galvan, age 6, Chicago

I may be a writer, but I know when times are calling for drastic measures and radical turnovers. So does Catherine, who would probably support a UN peace-keeping presence in the Gaza Strip. It’s fascinating how committed children are to the promotion of peace, mediation, negotiation, and change – and to see how belligerent, aggressive, and action-prone they become once they hit their twenties. This is how the education system is failing: when it somehow stops responding to the very natural call for ceasefire, in every instances, and instead brings about a sense of nationalism, patriotic pride that can only fuel conflicts. Little Catherine wasn’t there during the Vietnam War, but she instinctively knew the slogan. What could be more effective than innate peace-building?

I guess it’s time to simplify ideals and make them more accessible and affordable, simply because we’d be more in touch with what we really need.

The New York Times reproduced these letters, some of which drawn from Jory John’s forthcoming “Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: A Collection of Kids’ Letters to President Obama”. John is a program director at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center.

Advertisements