Penn State and Lessons from Kindergarten

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Many of us will remember Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Basic principles like “play fair,” “don’t take things which aren’t yours,” “say your sorry when you hurt someone,” and “clean up your own mess” are just a few of the gentle reminders from Fulghum. The importance of these early “life lessons” is hard to over estimate, isn’t it?

This week the nation has been rocked by the scandal at Penn State. Many careers are in ruins, a great national legacy has been tarnished, a beloved coach has been fired, and, most importantly, dozens of children (now young adults) have been violated in unspeakable ways. It reminded me of something my mother used to say to me and my brothers when we were growing up. Starting around kindergarten and, from time to time, throughout our young lives my mother would say, “never do anything which you would be embarrassed about if it was shouted from the rooftops or put on tomorrow’s headlines.” I heard it when I was so young I didn’t know for sure what she meant. I also remember hearing it in shame when I came home one day (along with my two brothers) after having participated in the “egging” of someone’s house in our neighborhood.  We all wanted to play a prank on one of our friends and so we got some eggs and threw them onto the roof of his house. We were, of course, spotted and within minutes my mother was armed and waiting our arrival back home. We walked in the door and what we thought we had done “in secret” had become known. We were marched back down the street and I spent the next two days scrubbing with soap and water the roof of the house we had violated. My deeds were literally being “shouted from the housetops” as the neighbors all gathered to watch us all up on the roof making restitution. We were also made to wash every window and sweep the driveway and mow the grass. I thought our penance would never be over! But, I learned a valuable lesson – don’t ever do anything you don’t want shouted from the rooftops or put in tomorrow’s headline.”

My mother gave her “shout from the housetops” speech because she knew Jesus’ words “what you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight; and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 13:3). Penn State needed that basic lesson ringing in their ears back in 2002. These kind of things cannot remain hidden. What is discussed today behind closed doors will, in time, be shouted from the rooftops. In fact, if Jerry Sandusky had learned that lesson in kindergarten, a horrible tragedy might have been avoided.

This is a powerful reminder for us to examine our own lives. Is there anything in our lives which we would be ashamed of if it were shouted from the rooftops or put on tomorrow’s headlines?  If so, then set it right today. I am so glad (now) for the rooftop speech. I hope I never forget it.

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