Shelter report: Filibusters and future leaders


The day Washington announced a deal to end the federal government shutdown, I was at the preschool reading Green Eggs and Ham.

Five times in a row.

I watched the video of Sen. Ted Cruz during his grandstanding filibuster. He read the Dr. Seuss classic competently but in the manner of a man all too pleased with himself. After all, he’s a father reading to children who are supposed to settle down go to sleep.

No surprise that I prefer my rendition. It’s delivered to kids we are trying to awaken.

The boy I read for, let’s call him Jamarcus, was on his first day in the preschool. Kids whose families have just moved into the shelter are often like he was—restless, anxious, trying to comfort themselves. All of us took turns applying our various calming strategies to get him to sleep during nap time.

None of it worked.

While I was with him, he squirmed, crossed and recrossed his legs, and rubbed his gums and sucked his fingers, working them in and out of his mouth. His teeth, I noticed, were tiny for his age and widely gapped.

He wasn’t misbehaving or loud, just not resting. He whispered to me, nearly an hour after he first went down on his cot, “I can get up in two minutes.”

No, I said, you can get up in 65 minutes.

Five minutes, he countered, and then began counting under his breath: 25, 26, 27, 28, 29… 25, 26, 27, 28, 29…

Finally, after more than an hour and a half of wakeful naptime, a teacher asked if I’d take Jamarcus to the library and read to him. He selected a book, and we sat together in a childsized love seat.

My version of the reading tends toward the dramatic. The characters have voices—the entire story is told in dialogue, after all—and they speak in a manner that shows their disgust, impatience, humor and obstinance. During their opposition they develop a relationship.

After the first run-through, he asked to hear it again. And again. Why do you want to hear it again? It’s funny, he said.

Later, he went to the shelves and picked out three more Dr. Seuss titles from the hundred or so haphazardly arranged books. It wasn’t until he brought a fifth book to our pile that I figured out how he inerrantly plucked them seeing only the thin spines. It was a Berenstain Bears adventure that also had the Cat in the Hat symbol on the spine.

Various commentators have remarked on Sen. Cruz’s selection of Green Eggs and Ham as completely missing the point of the story, given his ultimate purpose was to defund the health care law. He’s also come up short on some of the skills we try to build in preschool, what the training calls Executive Function.

Executive function skills encourage children to control their impuses, listen, make predictions, problem solve or recall past events and relate them to the present.

Jamarcus certainly has the capacity to develop these skills. But not everyone, even the well-educated, are able to exercise them.