Elementary solution to government ethics lapses

North Carolina doesn’t need new laws, regulations, or a study commission to help restore ethical government. Nor does the state need an ethics commission that rarely meets and exempts major departments of the state government from oversight.

As a former teacher, Governor Beverly Perdue should know there is a very simple solution, you might say it’s elementary, to the apparent ignorance exhibited by many state employees and political appointees about the difference between right and wrong.

The solution is to send all state employees and anyone appointed to any state board, committee or advisory group back to kindergarten, preferably using a curriculum from the 1950s or 1960s. If none can be found, then the governor can use as a lesson plan Robert Fulghum’s book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

The governor could set the example by sending all state employees and citizen advisers to a kindergarten refresher cost, and set an example that the state legislator would be hard-pressed to ignore. The University of North Carolina’s Institute for Local Government might even conduct the program, except that they might have to pull some some former kindergarten teachers out of retirement.

Here’s a sample of a possible curriculum. Lesson one would be “Don’t Take Things that Aren’t Yours.” Other suggested lessons could cover such topics as “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” “Don’t Hit Other People,” and “Clean Up Your Own Mess.”

People who attended kindergarten in the 1950s and 1960s learned these basic lessons. They learned that it is not right for a person who is supposed to be a “public servant” to accept free meals from a company they are supposed to regulate. They don’t need a law or regulation to tell them that it is not right for two members of the same family to hold the top two positions in a government agency.

The lessons taught them to understand that when you fill out a form intended to determine if you might have any conflict of interest in the job you seeking, whether its paying job or an elected position, it is not right to lie or omit information. They also learned that if you don’t know the answer you are supposed to find out and reveal the information, even if it makes you uncomfortable, or costs you the job. That trait is called honesty.

Whether or not they had any religious upbringing, even the secular curriculum taught them the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s because this is a universal code of conduct, espoused by all the world’s major religions in some form or another.

Perhaps the most important thing the ’50s and ’60s kindergarten education taught them is to expect more from state employees, political appointees and elected officials who attended these same course and supposedly learned these same lessons.

Instead of more education programs for children, like “No Child Left Behind,” or “More At Four,” what North Carolina needs is an adult education program. If you need a fancy title for it to make it politically palatable, let’s call it “Kindergarten ReKindled.”