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Gore Helps Kids Learn Gibberish

March 24, 2000

MACOMB, Mich. (AP) _ ``Wub woo bub bub wub, wub.″ When Vice President Al Gore joined an improvisational exercise in the 6th-grade drama class, he sounded like a fish trying to talk underwater.

It was all part of an unprecedented, seven-hour presidential campaign excursion back to school _ on pizza day, no less _ to learn about education policy ``from the people who are actually doing the hands-on work.″

And so, Gore, who is battling Republican George W. Bush to be the Mr. Education in this race, stormed L’Anse Creuse Middle School North with an entourage of aides, Secret Service agents and news media on Friday.

He arrived by motorcade, ``a typical commute to work this morning, with a motorcycle escort,″ he joked with Claudia Amboyer, the 6th-grade language arts teacher who let Gore sleep over at her and her husband’s house Thursday night. They were up past midnight talking about schools, she said.

``You can call me Al,″ he told an 8th-grade boy with spiked hair.

``Kind of weird,″ said another boy, 11-year-old Tommy Spanski, after Gore watched him measure angles with a plastic protractor.

Weirdest was Gore’s foray into Sally Hannert’s drama class, where the kids volunteered him for the lead role in one of their ``gibberish″ exercises. Gore looked wary as Hannert asked, ``Can you speak gibberish?″

``Unfortunately, yes,″ he chuckled.

His assignment: act without using real words the part of a father scolding his daughter for bad grades. Gore performed with great flourish and animation: ``Wa woo ubb wuh, wuh-bub. ...″

Asked later if Gore had practiced for his nonsense babble, campaign press secretary Chris Lehane quipped, ``We’re getting ready for our debates with Bush.″

If Bush, in the public eye, has a problem with intellectual substance, Gore still struggles to convince Americans he is a genuine and engaging person who understands real people’s concerns.

A national poll listed ``boring, ``dull″ and ``politician,″ as some of the most frequently cited labels given to Gore.

``Normal″ was what the vice president had been aiming for, said principal John DaVia. Just to blend in, like any other teacher in this predominantly white school in a blue-collar township outside of Detroit.

In shirtsleeves, he perched on a wooden stool beneath the cutouts of 18 U.S. presidents taped to Diane Persha’s classroom wall and quizzed her students to help them review for next week’s American history test. He displayed a mastery of the Industrial Revolution and told stories about how Eli Whitney got the idea for his cotton gin, and what prompted Samuel Morse to develop the telegraph.

Against a row of salmon-colored lockers, he chatted with bus drivers who pleaded for him to spread the word that drivers must stop for a school bus’ flashing red lights. Janitors told him there is ``never enough money″ for proper maintenance.

And, ``What do people need to know about the cafeteria?″ he asked three lunch ladies.

Awkward pause.

``You mean cafeteria work?″ one of them asked.

Gore shrugged, ``Yeah.″

He filled the next awkward silence sounding like the average middle-schooler: ``I love pizza. Any chance you’ll have pizza today?″

He was in luck. The menu offered two kinds when he later pushed his tray down the lunch line.

Reporters were barred from his huddles with parents, teachers, and school counselors and security officers. ``I want to encourage you to let your hair down,″ he told a circle of 14 teachers.

One lesson he could have gleaned from the day was a subtle one.

In the history class he taught, three boys dominated the discussion while Gore did nothing to draw out the girls.

Sarah Plouffe, 14, told a reporter Gore could learn plenty here and be a better president because of it.

``If he learns how to communicate with young people like we do, he’ll have more influence over what we do. Just tell it to us like it is,″ she said.

Dan Lindeman, 13, was surprised Gore talked to him without mentioning the double row of spikes in his hair. ``I was waiting for a comment,″ the boy said, adding, ``He speaks to young people well and gives us a good feeling about our political leaders today.″

Gore promised to keep at it, holding these so-called School Days ``every week or two to learn as much as I can.″

With more than 200 days left in the campaign, Gore could afford to invest so many hours. And, he pledged on Friday, ``If I am entrusted with the presidency, I will continue having school days as president to focus attention on the challenges our country faces.″

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