Why you need to remember what you learned in kindergarten

It will serve you well later

In September, I had the marvelous opportunity to attend the dedication ceremony of Denver Public Schools’ newest educational institution, Joe Shoemaker School, an elementary school in far southeast Denver named in honor of the late former Colorado senator and founder of The Greenway Foundation. It’s a beautiful, innovative facility, placed right on Cherry Creek, a fitting tribute to a man who set in motion the amazing now-41-year revitalization of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, a clean-up and beautification that also includes an environmental education program that touches the lives of thousands of DPS students each and every year.  

I was seated in the front row in the school’s new gym, and then the kids – mostly pre-K and kindergarteners – streamed in and sat on the floor just inches from me. Teachers were admonishing the kids to sit still, stay quiet, be nice, and they were very good, especially since the program, as nice as it was, must have been torture for youngsters. It got me thinking about that famous book from more than 25 years ago, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum.

It’s been years since I read the book, but looking at those kids made me think of it and my own kindergarten lessons nearly 60 years ago (Pierce School, Mrs. Diggins, Class of ’58). The two main things I remember – clearly – were “Cheaters never win, and winners never cheat,” and the Golden Rule – basically, treat other people as you would like them to treat you.

It’s all pabulum and platitudes, of course, but at least it’s part of developing a conscience. None of us ever does the right thing all of the time, but at least some of us have the good sense to realize that eventually. We must, as the old sayings go, look at ourselves in the mirror and, eventually, sleep at night.

Ah, there’s the rub. There are, apparently, many people – unfortunately too many in business – who sleep well every night and have big, ginormous mirrors to admire themselves in spite of actions that would make most of us restless and anti-narcissistic.

The very week of my school visit brought the latest of the all-too-frequent business scandals in the news, and it made me wonder what, after kindergarten, strips people of moral lessons.

Take for instance the case of Volkswagen, where the company systematically altered software on its diesel engine cars to misstate emissions and mileage information to fool regulators and, indeed, the public. This wasn’t just some mistake in manufacturing, the kind of thing that leads to recalls, but rather a blatant circumvention of rules and out-and-out lying. It cost the company’s CEO his job, as it should, yet reportedly he still gets a multi-multi-million dollar golden parachute. It’ll cost VW much more than the parachute in fines and lawsuits, not to mention the enormous hit to its reputation and future sales that is bound to ensue. The sad truth, however, is that it’s impossible to imagine that VW is alone among automakers in such deception, so it remains to be seen how many other shoes drop.

Then there’s the curious case of Turing Pharmaceuticals, where the company’s young CEO, Martin Shkreli, somehow got his hands on the AIDS drug Daraprim, and unapologetically raised the price overnight from a few dollars a dose to several hundred dollars, something like a 4,000 percent increase, basically because he could. The smirk he displayed at defending himself after the public outcry most assuredly made his kindergarten teacher wince.

I look back at those squirming kindergarteners at the Joe Shoemaker School and wonder which ones will remember their lessons and which ones won’t.

The sad truth is, not nearly enough

Categories: Business Insights, Human Resources, Magazine Articles