Although a "clean, well-lighted place" is deeper than cleanliness, it starts there. Students deserve to come to a school that is consistently well-kept. A number of our students are in despair and their home lives are unorganized and in disorder. Having a predictably clean entry, hallway, bathroom, and classroom sets the stage for learning. It sends a message to students that they have something to come to each day - something with substance, something predictable, something with order.
The old man in the short story feels alone, unwanted and in a deep despair. The interaction in the story between the two waiters and the old man happen daily in our lives. Like the old man, some students show up simply to confront loneliness and have a purpose. Like the waiters, teacher either live their jobs where teaching gives them purpose or they simply see it as a job - not a place that provides comfort and routine.
School leaders must make sure that the work they do ensures that their schools are "clean, well-lighted places" and as long as students are showing up, we need to ensure that we are "open" and ready to serve.
"It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music.... What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order."
- Ernest Hemingway
Ryan Dumkrieger is the principal of Sioux City North High School.