Children blush not at discussing what a president does

October 07, 1998|By Rob Hiaasen

It was not a trick question. It was, unwittingly, the defining question of the Clinton presidency.

What other things ...

As read by Tina Novian, mild-mannered teacher at the Wonder Care day care center in Baltimore.

What other things besides reading ...

Oh, no, as feared by Tina Novian, teacher of young people.

What other things besides reading might the president do in the White House?

There it is, the National Question. But it doesn't spill from the Starr report but from an unboxed document known as "Lesson 3. Citizenship: The White House."

Novian's mind winced as her class of 4- and 5-year-olds fielded the question this month. It had already made Wonder Care teachers and its parents giggle, naturally. But would 4-year-olds know anything about the scandal? Would they ask about Monica? About those U-define "sexual relations"? About cigars?

"And then I would be stuck and would have to quit!" Novian says.

Novian still has her job. Turns out there wasn't a prurient peep from her kids. "With the little guys, they don't know all the outside stuff -- luckily."

Instead, their answers were breathtakingly elemental: 1. The president talks on the phone. 2. He writes things. 3. The president eats breakfast.

In fact, Novian's class spent a lot of time on the matter of presidential breakfasts. It's a fascinating subject, apparently. One that might help the nation stop obsessing about matters unrelated to the day's most important meal.

The president's movements were also under heavy scrutiny among the tots.

"Using our maze, we've been trying to get the president from the breakfast table to the Oval Office," Novian says.

With no unofficial stops in between, we trust?

"That's right."

Yes, Virginia, there's still a place where simple, decent questions about the highest office in the land can be asked and answered without shame.

A place called kindergarten.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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