Thursday, August 21, 2014

To Begin

One of my favorite back to school quotes is from Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.

"October is a fine and dangerous season in America. It is dry and cool and the land is wild with red and gold and crimson, and all the lassitudes of August have seeped out of your blood, and you are full of ambition. It is a wonderful time to begin anything at all. You go to college and every course in the catalogue looks wonderful. The names of the subjects seem to lay open the way to a new world. Your arms are full of new, clean notebooks, waiting to be filled. You pass through the doors of the library and the smell of thousands of well-kept books makes your head swim with a clean and subtle pleasure. You have a new hat, a new sweater, perhaps, or a whole new suit. Even the nickels and the quarters in your pocket feel new, and the buildings shine in the glorious sun."

Alas, we go back to school in August with plenty of "lassitudes in our blood." Maryland weather will not bring us stereotypical Fall until at least October, if not later. There's just something counterintuitive about buying back-to-school fashions when the first day of school may be as hot as any summer day. We shouldn't be in school, we think. We should be at the pool.

Of course, people go back to school in all kinds of weather and climate zones. While I crave a hint of coolness, perhaps a bit of color beginning to tint leaves on neighborhood trees, that's only one narrow way of defining a back-to-school feeling. For many going back to school means a safer, more secure environment. Regular meals. Caring adults. Access to books.

The older I get the more conflicted I get about the American way of doing education. There's good and bad in every bite. But as difficult as it is for me to leave summer behind, I honor and respect the teachers all over this country who are preparing to reach out, exhort, support, and challenge children one more time. Their goal is to "lay open the way to a new world."

Let us have one more snowball, one more swim, one more chance to run in the sprinkler, stay up late and sleep in. Then we turn our faces to new challenges.




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