Some things about Maine are timeless and eternal: the harsh winters, the rocky coast, and Paul LePage talking about public schools.
Although the ex-governor and I don’t have much in common, we both attended private schools throughout our childhood.
Just as he wants to restrict and regulate abortion despite having no experience of pregnancy, LePage wants to restrict and regulate public schools despite having no personal experience of them. If I were a gamer, I’d bet a fair amount of money that LePage (or any average politician) wouldn’t be able to last a full day as a teacher.
My father worked for years as an educational technician in public schools. my boyfriend, Rory, is also an education technician at a public school. (I’m aware of the Oedipal implications here, it’s a whole separate column – or 12.) I was fortunate enough to get some insight into the Maine public school system. And what I see are teachers and support staff breaking their buns every day for children in Maine, despite being overworked, underpaid, underappreciated and constantly exposed to every germ circulating in the community. Guess what Rory brought home from school this week? Rhinoviruses.
And that was before this strange new moral panic caused by conservative politicians. Now teachers have to deal with being called ‘preparers’ and ‘paedophiles’ for acknowledging the existence of gay and transgender people, or being branded radical reverse racists for teaching a lesson on wickedness of slavery. And now the ex-CEO of Marden’s thinks he can tell them how to do their job?
I could never do what Rory does. While working with children with various disorders, disabilities and behavioral issues, he received punches, claws, bites and kicks from students. He has a laptop slammed on his fingers. Stones and other objects were thrown at him. Through it all, he remains calm and nurturing.
Not everything is bad, of course. Most of the students are wonderful and adorable children. It’s the third week of school and Rory has already brought home a drawing that a student made for him. (I put it on the fridge, of course.) When kids aren’t so nice, we know it’s not their fault. They have been roughed up in life and react to their environment in the only way they know how.
Public schools are the sink strainers of our country; they grab all the bric-a-brac. Every problem that exists in the world exists in smaller concentrated forms in schools. The idea of “going back to basics” and focusing only on teaching traditional reading, writing and rhythm sounds good in theory. Worrying about the mental and emotional health of students is pretty squishy and woo-woo and “woke”.
But how do you expect a student to focus on learning a math lesson if they are hungry because there is no food at home? Or if he didn’t sleep last night because he lives in a shelter? How do you get a child to focus on a standardized test when they’re hurting because they’ve been beaten at home or grieving because they’ve lost a parent or caregiver? Like it or not, a child will not be able to sit down, be quiet and focus on learning until they feel safe.
If they cannot get this care and support at home, they will have to get it at school. And unlike private schools (which LePage would like to funnel taxpayer dollars into), public schools can’t choose their students. They should take each child as they are and do their best to teach them something useful. Sometimes the useful thing is geometry. Other times it’s emotional regulation.
According to LePage, parents are also worried and upset that some of their children are using a different name or pronouns at school than they do at home, without the knowledge and approval of their parents. I hate to break it to you, but if your child doesn’t feel comfortable letting you participate in their identity exploration, that’s not a problem with public schools – it’s a problem with your parenting. . If your child naturally wants to explore their gender identity and the home environment is not a supportive place to do so, they will find a safe space where they can. And where do the children spend the most time? School.
My father was one of the few male teachers in his elementary school. For a while it was pretty much him, the headmaster and the gym teacher. He was one of the only decent male role models in the lives of many of his students. Dad took this responsibility as seriously as he took his responsibility to ensure students passed grade-level math exams.
American public schools were not designed to produce generations of worker bees. They were designed to produce generations of well-rounded citizens. For many children, school is one of the only stable and reliable places in their lives. Don’t discount the importance of this feature just because you can’t measure it on a test.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a millennial from Maine. She can be contacted at:
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