As summer begins to wane—in spite of a heat wave bearing down on us—I begin to get that annual itch: it’s almost time for school to start. As I’ve written before, autumn is my favorite season because it means school to me, and school is where I’ve spent most of my life, a place that is familiar and homey and comfortable.
So regardless of my consternation over this government’s attacks on the environment, education, justice for all, and on the institutions that support them, my heart still leaps up at the thought of new and old students arriving and of the learning teachers and students throughout the country will be doing. I want to open my arms in welcome to every single one of those students and to celebrate every one of those teachers.
Yet I am deeply aware that many students in this country will not feel welcomed and will not experience school as familiar and homey and comfortable. Many may be frightened—indeed, terrified—that they and/or their families will be deported. Others will have so-called “access” to choice schools but in reality will be left out almost entirely. And still others will carry the burdens heaped upon them by various forms of thoughtlessness, exclusion, and discrimination. Especially in the face of the new Secretary of Education’s systematic attempts to dismantle public schools, this fall’s school opening seems fraught with difficulty.
What can we do in response to such attacks, to the thoughtlessness, exclusions, and discriminations? First, we can recognize them—we can name them; we can call them out, repeatedly. We can work locally to support teachers by volunteering and contributing our time, talent, and money to our public schools; by supporting knowledgeable and ethical citizens for election to school boards and other local offices (or by running ourselves!); and by keeping pressure on our representatives and senators to restore funding for public education in order to support dreamers across the land.
And we can—and must—be the welcoming faces and voices students see in our communities, in our churches and local institutions, and, most of all, in our schools. This is going to be a hard year for teachers, who will be asked to take on added responsibilities, to hold the line against encroachments on student rights, to teach truth, and to speak truth to power. But if there’s any group in this country up to such a task, I believe it is our teachers. So as this school year begins, I am wishing that the forces for good, for truth, for justice, will be with all of us as we say, to each and every student, “welcome back to school.”
, used under a CC0 Public Domain License