After a year and a half of almost daily work as a substitute, I’ve been hired by the school district as a fulltime employee, and Monday was the first day of school. Where better to be than a grade school on such a day? New clothes, backpacks and haircuts, bawling kids and deliriously happy kids.
I told the school psychologist, who was unable to console a first grader who had been whimpering longer than we thought humanly possible, that I remembered a similar event from my first day of first-grade fifty-two ago. A tall man in a blue Air Force dress uniform was trying to fit his son through the classroom door. The kid, who later became my best friend, was screaming and contorting his body so his father couldn’t squeeze him through. The boy was Korean, as was the kid squalling in the office on Monday. The counselor said, “Funny how we remember things like that.”
While eating lunch in the staff room I reread Eric Hoffer’s memoir Truth Imagined (1983), including Hoffer’s account of how reading Montaigne for the first time as a migrant worker during the Great Depression transformed his life forever. (I wrote about it here.) Montaigne, I know, is not part of the school-district curriculum, even for high-school students, but the alignment of school’s resumption and Montaigne sent me back after school to Hoffer’s Reflections on the Human Condition (1973):
“The central task of education is to implant a will and a facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.”