“IT’S A FINE thing about men, you know,” Jimmy Stewart says during hisfilibuster scene in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” “They all start life being boys.”
Brief pause, droll glance, and: “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of these senators were boys once.”
Andrew Molitoris lacked the pitch-perfect folksiness of Stewart’s Senator Jefferson Smith, but the crowd at the Dallas School Board meeting May 6 warmed to the fifth grader much as the senators did to Stewart in that movie: Slowly and inevitably.
In white polo shirt and black pants with an easy-going voice and a restless-leg shuffle, Molitoris recounted his trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the Junior National Young Leaders Conference under the auspices of the district. He projected pictures of activities while chatting about the Newseum, cherry blossoms and joining a Civil War re-enactment.
“That’s the only photo you’ll see that I’m not smiling in, because we weren’t allowed to smile.”
Molitoris and the other young leaders met a senator who didn’t leave much of an impression, apparently. “I found out he was a Democrat I think, from Scranton.”
“Are you a Democrat or a Republican,” Board Member Karen Kyle asked.
“What? Uhhh … I don’t know!”
“Best answer ever,” Board President Richard Coslett said between laughs.
The group met Mary Beth Tinker, who, in 1965 at the age of 13, joined classmates in wearing black armbands to school to show disapproval of the Vietnam War. The school banned the armbands. Tinker and the ACLU fought to the Supreme Court, and in 1969 the justices handed down a landmark decision that students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Molitoris panned the food (“breakfast made my stomach hurt every single day”) but praised the experience over all. As he wrapped up, he thanked the board members for their time and, with the disarming ease only a child could apply to the issue of education spending, added “and thanks for your money.”
In Mr. Smith, Stewart’s character is fighting a proposed dam that would kill his own plan for a boy’s camp, where youngsters could “build their bodies and minds for man-sized jobs.
“Yeah, it seemed like a pretty good idea, getting boys from all over the country, boys of all nationalities and ways of living, getting them together, let them find out what makes different people tick the way they do. Because I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules, if behind them they didn’t have a little bit of plainordinary everyday kindness. And a little looking out for the other fella, too.”
Molitoris’ little speech proved the value of pushing education beyond classroom walls and standardized tests. Was it a necessary part of preparing him for adult life? No.
Will he be a better adult because of it. Almost certainly.
“Thanks for the money”?
If I were a Dallas School District taxpayer, I’d gladly reply “You’re welcome.”