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WOSTER: Kids do say the darndest things

Terry Woster1 / 2
Shirlee Weich's second-grade class from Plankinton made silhouettes of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, just like a young Terry Woster did in days gone by. (Photo courtesy of Shirlee Weich)2 / 2

I know how old this makes me, but I used to absolutely love the Art Linkletter "House Party" show with the "Kids Say the Darndest Things" segment. I loved it on radio, and I loved it on television.

Decades after the original Linkletter programs, Bill Cosby had a TV program based on the "Kids Say the Darndest Things" premise and it was a hoot, too. In both instances, the host of the program would ask young boys and girls innocent questions and often received hilarious answers that cut to the heart of the question in ways the host hadn't expected.

Young people, especially those still in the elementary grades, can be counted on for straight-from-the-shoulder evaluations of people, actions and events.

They haven't learned yet -- most of them, anyway -- to hold too much back and to think deeply about a topic before they speak. You ask, and if they're thinking it, they'll say it.

I say this not to do a column on the Linkletter programs but to tell you that when I traveled for the newspaper, some of the most enjoyable assignments I ever had involved visits to schools and time spent in classrooms filled with marvelous, inquisitive young people.

Kids can be forward or shy, quiet or boisterous, friendly or reserved, but they can't be boring. They simply have too much life in them to leave room for boredom.

You know, I had the opportunity during a 40-year newspaper career to interview many people. Some of them were famous, some were powerful, some were wealthy and some were successful beyond my wildest imagination. Many of those people were fascinating interviews, and I recall them fondly.

Much as I enjoyed those interviews, I much preferred the times when the newspaper would give me the freedom to simply drive into a town and ask to meet the biggest character on main street or to travel to a school, walk into the business office and ask what was happening in the classrooms and whether I could stop by one or two to meet the teachers and watch the students as they learned -- and taught.

Somewhere in my collection of papers and clips and pictures from the newspaper days, I have a fading photograph of a visit to a Head Start program in the village of Red Scaffold on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

I traveled there following a series of blizzards on the plains to do some stories about how the residents of the storm-tossed area were handling the weather. Greg Latza, who grew up not far north of Mitchell, traveled with me.

He made the picture, which has me squeezed into a tiny chair at a table with three or four pre-school students over plates of fried chicken, peas and bread. I chatted with the kids while Greg did the photo work. It was just a typical moment in a typical day, but I love that photo.

I have another photograph I intend to keep a long time, too. I just received it last week. I'm not in it, and that isn't a bad thing. It's a photograph of the second-grade class at Plankinton School.

The teacher, Shirlee Weich, sent it to me by email after her class read a column I wrote that recalled my grade-school days of making silhouettes of presidents Washington and Lincoln as we learned about their lives by observing their February birthdays.

"The students wanted you to know we STILL do these," the email read. "I read your article last week, and we had already planned this project (as I do every year). Feel free to stop by sometime -- they will be hanging up for a couple of weeks in our school.

"P.S. The kids would love to hear from you. We read your article and have been learning about how emails work."

The attached photograph showed the students holding sheets of what I'll always call construction paper. Each sheet has silhouettes of Lincoln and Washington. The silhouettes are fastened to the paper, I hope, with that mysterious substance I still call "school paste."

It made my day.

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