In the Nation’s Service

I got word a few days ago that my classmate from Princeton, Chris Lu, has been named Executive Director of Obama’s transition team.

I didn’t know Chris directly, although we were in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School together for about 30 seconds, until I decided to leave that prestigious program to major in English (largely because I figured out very quickly I didn’t want to be in politics). You can tell me if that was my smartest career move.

But I think it was clear to anyone on campus at the time that Chris Lu had a gift.  He was really smart, gracious, poised.  Princeton’s motto is “In the Nation’s Service” and Chris Lu has done that for very many years.  And I admit there’s something awesome and inspiring to know that a classmate is at center of this historical moment.  Ella, my 6-year-old, was duly impressed when I told her about Chris Lu, and in a strange way, the fact made the Obama administration more familiar to her, too–as if working in the White House is job, held by people like your parents.  Okay, much smarter & much more accomplished.  But you get the general idea.  It seems not such an impossible, distant achievement, divorced from the realm of everyday experience.

So, the question for this blog, and I think for all of us raising young children now, is: How do you raise civic-minded children?  Of course, they all won’t grow up to be Hilary or the Obamas or Martin Luther King or Chris Lu.  But I’d guess there are things we can all do to connect them to their world more forcefully and more responsibly, so that civic values are simply part of how they see the world.  So that they can feel as if democracy and their government will matter to them.

I’d wager that one way to start is by letting them build block signs.

Another is to show them that laws & democracy are interesting and vital & important to them. We might begin to teach them, in age appropriate ways, that they have a voice & can make a difference.  That change is possible in large ways as well as small.

So in honor of Chris Lu, who worked with Obama first as his legislative director, I offer a humble, age-appropriate beginning for school-age kids, from that a venerable cultural phenomenon of my childhood:


Let me know what you’re talking about in your house.

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