I am a product of public schools, and proudly so. Even in the midst of so many crises in our national moment, I hope that the plight of public education is not overlooked. Our classrooms can serve, must serve, as incubators: for our common decency, for our sense of fairness, for our bonds of citizenship and for the foundation of a more just nation.

I was reminded of all this in an emotional return last week to Love Elementary in Houston, where I first set foot more than 80 years ago (to write the sentence is to catch my breath in wonder at this span of time). The neighborhood has changed greatly since my youth. It is much more ethnically diverse, much like the larger city around it and the United States itself. But as I walked the hallways and met the children, I found so much in common with when I went there. There were the committed teachers and an inspiring principal – Melba Heredia Johnson. There was the spirit of optimism and the strong sense of community from the students and their families, many of which, as in my time, is positioned at the lower rungs of the ladder of the American Dream.

I knew I had come to Love to plant a tree, alongside trees I planted with my classmates so many decades ago. But this visit turned out to be so much more. I spent time in the classrooms, where the eager young faces filled me with hope. God bless them, but these children apparently had spent some class time learning about this ancient alumnus, and their questions and work on the bulletin boards touched my heart with humility and thankfulness. Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to receive some tributes and acknowledgments, many more than I deserve. But this one was one of the most special.

I just wish this was where we as Americans were training our focus. If people could just come to places like Love, learn about its bilingual education, meet the inspiring staff, hear from the engaged parents, and appreciate how schools like this are so vital to building a better America. This is about community, and fairness, and justice, and hope. It’s about the belief that public education must be part of the great national spirit of equal opportunity. Educating our children – all of our children – must be part of what unites us!

As I left, my eyes a bit more misty than I would like to admit, I couldn’t help thinking that this world would be doing a lot better if there was a bit more Love.