and I could hear the tinkle and clatter asrnthe last broken pieces hit the ones thatrnhad preceded them.rnMay 21, 1981, was already hot in thernClear Lake suburb of Houston, Texas, anrnastronaut/engineer-dominated middleclassrncommunity adjacent to NASA’srnLyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Thernmain highway into Clear Lake, NASArnRoad-1, boasted a Texas-sized billboardrnthat proclaimed: “CLEAR LAKE: ArnGREAT PLACE FOR A KID TOrnGROW UP.”rnThe double doors were ajar outside thernClear Creek High classroom where I hadrntaught for two years. A dust)’ wind funneledrndown the hallway, rustling layers ofrntorn notebooks, crumpled papers, poprnbottles, bars of soap, and tattered clothing.rnLockers, colorful and spotless at the beginningrnof the school year, now gawkedrnfrom lopsided hinges, their doors coveredrnwith obscenities. The bathrooms trickledrnwater under silent doorways.rnThe school bell squalled like a spoiledrnbrat, and the empty ritual known as “finalrnexaminations” began. Eor it was also ExemptionrnDay—the last day of school,rnwhen “qualifying” pupils were free, orrnnot, to take their final exams. The policy,rnset out in a handbook nobody read, statedrnthat only students who had been absentrnfewer than three times during the termrnand who were not failing any subjectrnwere exempt from the last day’s exams.rnIt was one o’clock, 5 5 minutes to ZerornHour, sandy beaches, and summer fun.rnA dozen or so students made their wayrnthrough the nine months of learning thatrnlay on the floor—the “kickers” (drugstorerncowboys) in their Western boots, low-ridingrnjeans and exaggerated Texas hats; thern”freaks” (or drug set) decked out in holefilledrnT-shirts, dirty-billed caps wornrnbackward, and stringy long hair; and thern”jocks” with their open-to-the-navel shirtsrnand gold chains.rnThe loudspeaker kept droning itsrnemergency message: “Principal to ‘B’rnBuilding! Principal to ‘B’ Building,rnPLEASE!” At last the words became garbled,rnand the intercom crackled and died.rnGraduation had taken place over a weekrnbefore, and grades—at least unoflFicially—rnwere tallied. Exams were a farce, andrnmore than a few students knew it. And sornthe Army of the Exempt, like locusts, hadrncome, done their damage, and gone.rnI counted my pupils. Six. Threernstraight-A Vietnamese refugees who hadrncome to the school in the middle of thernyear speaking practically no English, anotherrnstraight-A student who had transferredrnto Clear Creek High at midtermrnfrom a school in England, a youngsterrnwho had spent three weeks in the hospital,rnand a disabled Hispanic girl who wasrnbarely passing and had come today tornmake sure she did.rnI took a deep breath, forced a smile,rnshut the door to my classroom, and beganrnexplaining the examination to the six stalwartrnstudents who had trekked throughrnthe muck to get here.rnWhen they had settled down to work, Irnburied myself in the papers on my desk.rnA note on the bottom of one caught myrneye —a word of thanks conveying bestrnwishes for a fun-filled summer and expressingrndie hope that I woidd be the studenfrns teacher next year.rnI felt my eyes sting. I knew I wouldn’trnbe back.rnUnable to concentrate on paperwork, Irnopened the drawer containing my littlernstack of treasures —among them essaysrnwritten by my rhetoric students in theirrnenthusiasm for a class I had piloted, butrnwhich the administration later canceledrnwith the excuse that “teachers can nornlonger be spared for challenging pursuitsrnwhen so many remedial readers need ourrnhelp.”rnI sighed. Ever’thing would have to bernpacked or tossed.rnSuddenly my eyes fixed on a familiarrnbinding. The title was Annual of thernMaret School, J959, Washington, D.C.rnMy old school yearbook. I must havernforgotten to take it home. I had shown itrnto a few curious pupils who wanted to seern”what Mrs. Eakman looked like whenrnshe was little.” I opened the cover andrnsmiled, recalling how my students hadrnhooted when they saw the white bobbyrnsocks, oxfords, sport coats and bow ties.rnI flipped to my seventh-grade class picture.rnI used to hate this picture, I mused.rnI quickly found another page —a classrnshot of the first-graders: A Laotian boy satrnnext to a prim litfle Arab girl, Khalida,rnone of the Arab ambassador’s seven “littlernstepping stones,” as we’d called them, becausernhe had one in nearly every grade.rnKhalida’s hand, like all the other littlernhands in the room, rested on a sea ofrnopen texts and notebooks. But her expressionrnstole the show—huge alert eyes,rnhead cocked to one side.rnNo one in school that year had spokenrnArabic, so the teachers rounded up theirrnbest readers to tutor the newcomers. Irnhad been one of them. We all worked inrnshifts during recess. At the end of a fewrnshort weeks, we were amazed to find ourrncharges babbling away in English andrnFrench along with the rest of us.rnHow had Maret managed, I wondered,rnwithout bilingual funding, multiculturalrnprograms, and federal grairts?rnBehind Khalida sat a young man fromrnIndia—with a name I could no longerrnpronounce—and in front was the Frenchrnboy, Luc. All the boys wore coats andrnties; all the girls, simple dresses or skirtsrnand blouses. It never had occurred tornMaret administrators to establish a dressrncode. Our parents had sent us to schoolrnas though ever)’ day were important.rnOn the next page was a shot of the studerrtrnbody at the annual Christmasrnpageant—a major event at Maret, alwaysrnheld in a church rented for the occasion.rnThere we all were, looking cherubic, inrnour white choir robes with those enormousrnblack bows under our chins. Tornmy knowledge, no one ever opted out onrnreligious grounds — or wanted to. Wernsang about the Christ Child, the VirginrnMary, the Christmas season, in English,rnin P’rench, a capella, descant, and harmonyrn—feats made all the more remarkablernbecause here we were, an internationalrnschool of Muslims, Jews, Hindus,rnCatholics, Protestants, and heaven knowsrnwhat else.rnWhat made it different back then?rnChristmas was seen as part of the Americanrnculture, and respect for religion was arn”given,” in any case. To the parents Irnknew as a child, whatever their nativernland, religious institittions representedrnStandards, the kind with a capital S, andrnPrinciples, the sort you built your lifernarourrd. That the creeds and doctrines ofrnour various faiths may have differed wasrnnot part of that equation. Children neededrnStandards, and that was that.rnMaret had started out irr the earlyrn1920’s as an all-girls international school,rnfounded by three sisters who had immigratedrnto the United States from Fraircernaround 1910. Despite early deprivations,rnthey had been blessed with a fine Swissrneducation, an experience they never forgot.rnThe Maret sisters distinguishedrnthemselves in various careers, pullingrnthemselves up by their bootstraps. Theirrndreams crystallized in the form of tinyrnMaret School, which flourished andrneventually was moved to the Woodley Estaternin Washington, D . C , the summerrnhome of four presidents, where it remainsrnto this day.rnThe year I hmied 12, 1959, happenedrnalso to be the vear Maret received its firstrn48/CHRONICLESrnrnrn