To measure the distance from “no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks” to yellow leaves and schoolbuses requires a variety of rulers. Mothers count the weeks in raindrops, sibling squabbles, skinned knees, and demands for new things to do. During early vacation weeks, at least, their children lapped the time from fun-filled saucers.

Although youthful scholars often greet late summer’s empty days with diminishing enthusiasm, some collegians head for campus with chop-licking glee. And prematurely gray administrators seem scarcely able to straighten wary smiles over gritted teeth before school bells ring. For them Indian summer fails to warm the chill rumblings of sandal-shod dissenters for whom coed dorms and relaxed restrictions, schoolboard seats, and black-studies programs are not enough.

Perhaps all those going back to school this fall should take with them not only sharpened pencils but also sharpened understanding, patience, and love.

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