I know you won't believe this, but in spite of what Bush said, I met a child who was left behind. He was sitting on a curb, crying.

"What are you crying about?"

"I was left behind."

"Where are your parents?"

"My mother is in a rehab home, and I don't know who my father is. I can't read or write, and everyone makes fun of me."

"That shouldn't be. The president said he didn't want to leave one child behind."

"What is a president?"

"He is not God, but he thinks he is. He claims to produce miracles and he loves all his children."

"I never saw him."

"He is there. You are very important to his educational program, and if anyone finds that you are left behind, it could hurt him in the November election. Why do you think you were left behind?"

"The teacher didn't like me."

"I am sure you made that up."

"I didn't have nice clothes, and everyone else said I was a troublemaker. The teacher said if I didn't keep quiet she would leave me behind."

"That must have frightened you."

"Not really. She has left behind hundreds, maybe thousands."

"Well, you are the only one I know sitting on the curb crying."

"The others are hanging out at the street corner, or stealing hubcaps and anything else they can get their hands on."

"Wait until the president finds out. He will turn Homeland Security on them. Has anyone told you that you were left behind?"

"No one talks to me, so how would I know?"

"Well, you must have felt it or you wouldn't be crying."

"What does it all mean?"

"It all started when the Children's Defense Fund used 'Leave No Child Behind' as its slogan. Then President Bush stole the idea and used 'No Child Left Behind' as his slogan. Now he says he will see that no one is left behind, even though he knows it is not the truth."

The child looked at me blankly.

I continued: "It is all political. The president wants everyone to think he cares about them. Then they will vote for him."

"If he really cared about me, he would buy me basketball sneakers."

"He can't afford that. He has a war to fight."

The boy started crying again.

"If I bought you sneakers, would you stop crying and go back to school?"

"Uh-huh -- the ones like Michael Jordan wears."

"Maybe, but you have to promise to go back to school and study."

"How can I study if I can't read or write?"

"You are going to have to learn. Otherwise you will be left behind again, and you will eventually wind up snatching purses from ladies as they are walking down the street."

"They will never catch me if I have Michael Jordan's sneakers."

"No school, no sneakers."

"Why are you talking to me?"

"You are the only child I have met who has been left behind. You are a good human interest story."

He thought about this. "Will you buy me a Big Mac?"

"For a kid, you drive a hard bargain. I will, but I'm not doing it for you -- I'm doing it for President Bush."

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services