|Now as I was young and
easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honored among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas (first stanza)
As you see from our cover, weve taken a slightly different point of view on going back to school. Instead of thinking about notebooks and pens, clothes and backpacks, we suggest that all of us, adults and children, need to confront the reality of what has become of our schools, our community, our nation.
For the last three weeks I have been reading newspaper articles about how schools across the country are taking a wide array of measures to tighten security. The massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, the shootings at the high school in Conyers, Georgia, and numerous other incidents around the country, have prompted districts to enforce bans on canvas bags, to instigate "lockdown drills," to install surveillance cameras in hallways, to remove lockers, and to use computerized ID cards for students to gain entrance into their school. Sounds more like prison than the hallowed halls of learning.
In juxtaposition to all this terror, these systems built on fear, these mock terrorist drills, the above poem came to mind Dylan Thomas beautiful Fern Hill. Oh, the fading dream of carefree youth! I first read this poem when I was seventeen, and although I was still in the glow of my so-called golden youth, I was deeply affected by the underlying feeling of the poem that this ideal "place" is one that slips away forever as adulthood approaches.
Is there anywhere in America, in the world, where children can feel happy and unafraid, where "it was all Shining, it was Adam and maiden"? I worry that there isnt any more. I hope I am wrong, but the overall impression one gets from newspapers, magazines, and TV news shows is grim. Many of us parrot the proverb that Mrs. Clinton has coined, that it takes a village to raise a child, but I often wonder whether the weight and deep meaning of that saying really sinks in. I believe it doesnt, because I am always hearing people blaming other circumstances: violence in the movies and on TV, video games, etc. Im sure they have a component in a young persons psychological development, but I feel we, all of us, dont hold ourselves accountable enough for what goes on with our nations children. Whether we are young or old, married or single, childless or with children, Columbine, and the other horrible incidents, are all our responsibility if we really hold true what Mrs. Clintons wise African proverb says.
The saddest piece of news in the Columbine fallout was an article in the August 13th issue of the New York Post. The family of Isaiah Shoels, one of the victims in the massacre, who was singled out because he was African-American, has been receiving death threats from people in their community. From their neighbors. They have been verbally assaulted in the streets, and Isaiahs father, Michael Shoels, has been accused of orchestrating the massacre, and maintaining a high profile with the media. The harassment has become so intolerable that the Shoels are leaving the community, and the state. Apparently some people in Littleton didnt learn anything from their terrible loss.
School has become a very different place. The one room schoolhouse, the symbol of American democracy, where all children were given the opportunity to have a free education, and become anything they wanted to be, has become a locked facility where a child is tracked, pigeon-holed, labeled, and taught to be afraid. And learns to hate.
Before things get worse, before there is another horrible mass killing, let us all take responsibility for ourselves and for each other. Its more work, its harder, sometimes risky, but its the only way to hold on to having the right to call ourselves civilized. In the words of another great poet, Alexander Pope, "Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall; And universal darkness buries all."
Lets not allow that to happen. Have a safe and happy month.
This issue is dedicated to all my teachers, who taught me the golden rule, and showed me the way.
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