CONWAY, Ark. - It's always a pleasure to visit the Arkansas Governor's School here at Hendrix College. This is a kind of homecoming for me-a coming home to summers past when we drove the boy, then the girl, up here from Pine Bluff. It was good for them to get away for most of the summer, and good for us to be got away from. Nothing destroys families like too much togetherness.
The boy would come back years later to spend a couple of summers here as a teacher. Or maybe counselor or coach would be a better term for the kind of mentor that a summer program like this one for high school seniors needs. At any rate, he's since been demoted to state legislator. Listen, what can you do? It happens in the best of families.
I plead guilty to being one of those bothersome parents whom these bright young students come here to get away from. But I keep showing up year after year. The young people are irresistible. Not because they're necessarily the best students in their class, not at all, but because they may be the most interesting. Because they're the most interested - in literature, in the arts, in politics and history (now labeled the Social Sciences), or in the real sciences.
Some of these students may be more intellectually than socially adept, others are blessed/burdened with the kind of talent or intelligence that doesn't translate into top grades or test scores. And still others may be ordinary kids to an extraordinary degree. But all of them need the kind of summer program that deepens their knowledge or disciplines their talent - and assures them that they're not so unusual after all, that there are others like them in the world.
Just before my talk, some young violinists are warming up on stage. If anticipation had a sound, that would be it. I'm sorry to see them stop. Whatever I'm going to have to say will be a letdown.
All good things have their drawbacks, even a visit to Governor's School. I've got to give a lecture, and that's always a bore because I already know what I'm going to say. But even that chore comes with a happy ending. After my talk, I get to respond to the students' questions and comments.
When the give-and-take is over, a number of students, patient and well mannered, gather around to shake hands, introduce themselves, and ask a probing question or two. The lecture turns into a conversation, which is much better.
It's all enough to revive one's faith in civil discourse. And in education. It's a nice change from the usual irate e-mails piling up in my in-box.