Tomorrow my granddaughter will walk through the doors of her local school. And so this letter:
"Zadie, tomorrow is your first day of school. I’m imagining your Mom feeling that mixture of excitement and anxiety as she kisses you goodbye at the kindergarten door.
Schools have been my life and I am still astonished by the kind of places they could be—and are in the school where both your grandparents taught for so long, your Mom and Aunt went to and your Aunt is now teaching in. How I wish you lived in San Francisco and could be our student! But for now, this is not to be. And so I'm sending all my good wishes to you from afar as you walk the 10 blocks tomorrow morning to your school in Portland.
Zadie, you will enter those doors with a fierce independence, a vibrant, explosive 360 degree personality, an intelligence waiting to be more fully awakened and tested. I wonder—and worry about—who you will become after 13 plus years of schooling ahead. Schools can open children up and help them blossom or shut them down and make them less than they were when they entered. I believe in your strength to withstand the grinding, but more than that, hope that there will be no need for you to simply endure because the school will help you thrive.
There’s no question that your raw energy could use some cooking, your fiery temperament could use some tempering like a steel blade being refined and sharpened, your unpredictable spontaneity could use some artful shaping through self-discipline and applied routine. School can give you all of that. And I believe all of that is possible without losing the center of your character. But not without care and careful thought from your teachers. I fret about your exuberance being ground down to compliance, your curiosity dumbed down to worrying about what’s on the test, your vivid imagination reduced to right answers on tests.
But as I make my wish list, I’ll start small and simple. May your teachers be kind and caring. May you make good friends. May you be led to the wonder of words and numbers and given the power to unlock the stories and ideas found in books. If the school be so lucky as to have an arts program, may the teachers be as dedicated and imaginative as your grandparents, giving you yet more power of expression in tones, dance steps and images. Of course, may you be safe and protected, find a haven of peace in a troubled world even as you learn about the things that have caused and continue to cause all that trouble.
Zadie, I will think of you tomorrow as you begin this grand adventure and can’t wait to hear your stories! Go get ‘em, tiger!"