Back to school : The end of summer

Let’s remember, though, that for some, this is a time to dread

 

The traditional celebration of the passing of one year and the dawning of another falls, of course, in the middle of winter. But in many ways the moment when August slips into September is a more evocative marker of time and life’s inexorable passage. Autumn mists and shades may not quite have descended yet, but what the ancients called the “dog days” of high summer have definitively passed. A freshness in the morning air and chills after dusk portend the long nights and short days ahead.

Most importantly, for the young, this is the start of the academic year - a calendar that defines the rhythms of their lives. For them, the end of summer is a time of excitement, apprehension, renewal and change. The rituals of planning and preparation – of clothes, books and timetables – mingle with the thrill of reunions with friends or the challenge of embarking on a brand new phase of life in an unfamiliar school or college. Such moments can sometimes be fraught, but they are also deeply memorable. As we grow older, those imprinted memories become touchstones in our own personal stories as we look back across our lives.

For parents, too, this can be a bittersweet moment; many are more traumatised than their offspring by that dramatic first day at school; the years that follow can seem like an accelerating blur, as diminutive junior infants are transformed with bewildering speed into hulking adolescents. Each new school year serves notice of the rise of a new generation and (whisper it) of their own mortality.

Memories, hopes and fears, ambitions and good intentions, new projects and resolutions to do better – all these and more contribute to the sense for so many of us each September of a new chapter being opened and new possibilities being explored. Let’s remember, though, that for some, this is a time to dread. Families under financial pressure struggle with the demands imposed by a “free” education system that is far from free. Children can fear returning to schools where some are ostracised by peers or misunderstood by teachers. Disgracefully, this year thousands of homeless children will travel to school from hotels, B and Bs and other emergency accommodation, failed by a State and a society whose sentimental public utterances are not matched by effective actions.

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