You Could Grow Up to be President!
by Sandra Dodd
1996


“You could grow up to be President.” I don’t know how many times I heard that in school and I suppose it’s true. Some people have, and they were all kids once, but what are the odds? I got to thinking about the number of people who thought they MIGHT want to be president but never made it, and how they felt about that. I didn’t feel like interviewing a sufficient number of people to make a scientific sample, so the article’s not about that.

I thought I would find out what percentage of the people born in a particular year HAD become president, so I chose 1900. I figured it would be a simple problem—find out how many eligible Americans were born, and how many became president! There were problems. First, I found that nobody born in 1900 had become president. Then I couldn’t find out how many people were born! The problem was, four states (including my own) weren’t even part of the U.S. yet. I tried several sources to get birth figures for the entire eligible U.S.; no go. Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona and New Mexico? Well the problem is, how many of them lived to the age of 45? And do we count women, who still today don’t have a snowball’s chance in Kilauea of becoming president? So I thought back; what’s realistic? The depression and the flu epidemic were after 1900, as was WWI, and those who lived through all that ripened for the presidential elections in 1948. In 1948 nobody would’ve considered anyone who was Black or Hispanic, Asian or German. Jewish? Yeah. Maybe NEXT century. How many were left? Who knows? I got tired of the question.

From 1891 to 1907, sixteen full years, not a single future president was born. So it’s possible that nobody born from 1991 to 2007 will be president either. And listen—if one of them IS president, why would you want it to be one of YOUR kids? Why would you wish a full-year campaign and four years of round-the-clock worry and international responsibility on a child of yours? Why would you want your child to risk being vice president and having to attend the funerals of strangers all over the world where he might inadvertently insult an entire culture by some everyday hand gesture which means “OK” here but something horribly scatological there? Not only that, it would be on international TV!

You should think of these things before you give your children any big ideas about being president.

Most people say they wish they could keep their children young a little longer. I’ve never met many who would willingly put their kids in an aging-chamber.1 Look at photos of Jimmy Carter before and after, or of Clinton. People go in young or middle-aged and come out OLD. If I wanted my kids to age quickly I’d just buy them cigarettes (and tell them to smoke somewhere besides at MY house). No, I want my kids to last a while, and to age no more quickly than necessary.

So what IS a worthy goal for us to set for our children? I heard about a family with a chart on the wall culminating in a scholarship to Notre Dame. It worked backwards into the present, so that if the child met all the lower-level goals, the scholarship was a done deal. The kid was only nine years old or so, and the parents had made the chart themselves, but hey! People need GOALS!! (In our collective defense, these people weren’t homeschooling.) What are their odds of failure? A scholarship to Harvard would be a failure.

Here are my goals for my children: I want them to learn something every day. I want them to greet the morning with joy. I want them to see strangers as potential friends. I want their lives to be adventures without a map, where there are innumerable destinations, and unlimited opportunities for “success.” I want their definition of success to include things they can see all around them, not just in Washington, not just at medical conventions, or the Olympics. I want them to wake up, look out the window, and be glad of the view. I want them to be content with their choices and their abilities. I want them to be realistic about goals and philosophical about failure. I want them to be happy.

The really good thing about happiness is that it’s portable. It’s cheap. It doesn’t need a safety deposit box or an inheritance. You can give the same amount to all your kids, and they don’t have to wait until they’re 18 to claim and use it! Think about that. They can have it right now, and start using it, without taking yours away from you.

Do kids need to have their own room to store their happiness in? No. Do kids need to wait nine weeks to get a report card that says they’re doing well in happiness? No. Will working really hard now store up happiness they can use later? That’s the going theory, the one we were raised on, but I no longer believe it.

If my children wake up in Albuquerque, happy to be who and where they are, I hope they can maintain that feeling every day until they wake up in the middle of the next century and look out—I don’t care what they’re looking at, whether it’s the Alps, the Rio Grande, the back of their own filling station or the White House Lawn—and they’re still happy to be who and where they are. Who could ask for more than happiness? Don’t wait. Get it today and give it away.



NOTES:
1    I've removed a phrase from the original, the parenthetical phrase here:
Most people say they wish they could keep their children young a little longer. I’ve never met many who would willingly put their kids in an aging-chamber (well, except around the time they’re fourteen... never mind that now).
When I wrote that my oldest was nine years old. Now that I re-read it, my youngest is fifteen. I have never wanted to age them, even when they were fourteen.

And... "In the middle of the next century" was written in 1996.

This article was lost and forgotten for years, until someone came to www.unschooling.com's message board and in the midst of a fearful and fearsome rant wrote
Am I seeing the right thing here, are you all saying that living life is all my 6 year old needs, and what about when he is 17? what if he wants College, or to be the PRESIDENT or an ASTRONAUT. If my son went before this nation and said "Howdy all, I am from TEXAS, and I never had actual school, can I be your president?" I think that he would be the laughing stock of the USA.
I thought "Hey, where is that article on becoming president?" It was in an AOL 2.7 file on my Mac IIsi. And now it's here. Electronics did not fail me or eat my writing this time.
Years later (2009), a fun comment on the note above:
Sandra,

I was reading your page about growing up to be president and at the bottom someone was quoted saying this:

"If my son went before this nation and said "Howdy all, I am from TEXAS, and I never had actual school, can I be your president?" I think that he would be the laughing stock of the USA."

I had to laugh out loud at this because Abraham Lincoln, who is widely considered to be America's greatest president, did not go to school more than about 18 months. From what I know about education of the time this schooling probably consisted of learning to write the alphabet and maybe recite some Bible verses. Most of his learning came from books he read for his own benefit - often while he was supposed to be doing some other chore for his father. He didn't even go to college - he became a lawyer by reading law (which can still be done in certain states, I know California is one). So a kid who didn't go to school might indeed grow up to be president, and a terrific one at that. On the other hand, a kid who went to Yale can still grow up to be president AND the laughing stock of the USA... ;)

Bonnie B



As part of a discussion of how people learn to read (at UnschoolingDiscussion@yahoogroups.com) the story of a late-reading president came up:

"I have a friend who couldn't read and graduated high school. He then married and really wanted to get a better job so he could support a potentially growing family etc. So he asked his wife to help him learn and together they did and now he reads very well. He was motivated because it became important to him."

Pam G


You may find it fascinating to learn that America's 17th president, Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), was taught to read and write by his WIFE!!!!! He married her when he was 19 (1827) and when he was 22 (1830) years old he was elected the mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee.

He was known as a brave, thoughtful and intelligent man that was popular with the "common" people. So much so that when Abraham Lincoln(R) ran for re-election in 1864, the man he picked as his vice- president was Andrew Johnson(D).

Most historians will agree that his impeachment was not due to presidential incompetence, but was the loss of a political fight with the US congress over aspects of the reconstruction of a war torn country.

Who is to say that someone who learns to read after the age of 9 is doomed to be a failure in life??? There are many famous people in history who were late on the learning curve.

We have a friend whose son was an academic whiz and they had high hopes of him pursuing some great degree and becoming a big "somebody." They were very disappointed when he dropped out of a very prestigious college and took up a job at a fast-food restaurant. He was burnt out on the rat race and wanted life to slow down. Even though their relationship with him is getting better there is still a lot of tension.

Both of these stories have elements of success or failure depending upon personal perceptions and expectations. I choose to see both as success stories.

With much gratitude to this group,

Roxanne Trimper
(Member since December 2003, mother of 7 individual blessings)
From Torrance, California USA

If anyone reading this wants to add stats or ideas about what the odds are of becoming president, or what might be more limiting than lack of school, or how many presidents were privately schooled or not schooled at all, or anything that might be of interest in this matter are encouraged to write to Sandra@SandraDodd.com for possible inclusion here.