Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

1986

Robert Fulghum publishes

All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

When Robert Fulghum’s book arrived in bookstores in 1986 it was the beginning of a publishing phenomenon not unlike the Harry Potter craze today. His humorous, gentle stories convey a clear message that it is important to form a moral code and stick to it. The short, simple collection of random but careful thoughts caught the public’s imagination and surged to the top of the bestseller lists. The book and its sequels have sold 15 million copies in over 90 countries. Robert Fulghum’s uncommon ability to communicate his wisdom, which is primarily basic common sense, has made him a very wealthy man.

The strength of Fulghum’s writing is its simple truth. He hasn’t written anything that we don’t all know and understand on some level. However, his writing serves to remind readers that many of the complications or difficulties we experience in life could easily be avoided if we stopped to think about them. His list of rules—the things he learned in kindergarten—are rules everyone should live by:

Fulghum knows that following the rules is often difficult and writes of his own ambiguities and contradictions with full awareness of human nature. But through his close examination of what is important and what is just distraction, he educates his readers about how to step back and see the truth. Fulghum’s book expresses sentiments that many people identify with but few are confident enough to articulate.

Prior to becoming a best-selling writer, Fulghum worked as a high school art teacher for twenty years. According to a former student, Fulghum was an unconventional but highly effective teacher. In a 1997 article for Salon.com Rebecca Ransom wrote of Fulghum’s impact on his students. “I learned more from Fulghum’s class than art technique. I learned about choices, and about vision. I learned that though I was ruled by the meat of my brain, I was more than meat…. In the notes to my parents that teachers included with grades Fulghum called me the ‘reigning Queen of the 1986 Graphics Classes.’ I was overweight. I was shy. I drew well. I had never been the Queen of anything.” Ransom expresses happiness over Fulghum’s literary and financial success but also points out that while the world gained a celebrity writer, his high school students lost a great teacher. She believes the impact Fulghum had on his students was far more profound and life-altering than his books can ever hope to be. 

Robert Fulghum is celebrated for his books, speaking engagements, television appearances—his celebrity. But Ransom makes a statement Fulghum would probably agree with: “as the world grows increasingly fast, slick and image-oriented, I can’t help but think we have a greater need for real role models than we do for celebrities, however good-natured or positive they may be. We need good teachers more than we need posters of Robert Fulghum’s ‘Kindergarten’ lessons.

Sources:

  1. Fulghum, Robert, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Ivy Books, published by Ballantine Books New York, 1986, 196 pp.
  1. Ransom, Rebecca, An Apple for My Teacher, mediacircus salon, web link: http://www.salon.com/media/1997/11/06media.html.

Prepared by Margaret Licata (OISE/UT, 2003)

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Last updated on April 21, 2003.