I have always been compelled by differences. It is one of the factors that led me to teaching. In my first years, I taught in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.

My students were African-American, Puerto Rican, Dominican and West Indian. None of my students were white. They were energetic, curious and challenging. In short: They were kids.

Now, 16 years later, I live in Maine, where 94 percent of the population is white. As someone who knows the value of a diverse community, it was a statistic that I wrestled with when deciding to move here. I reconciled this with how much I love the people and the lifestyle here.

But this past year it has been more difficult to feel at ease in our state. Gov. LePage has made numerous remarks tying criminal behavior to race.

As a parent, and a teacher, I know that kids are listening, and the message his rhetoric conveys to our youngest citizens is unacceptable.

The governor’s recent remarks have reminded me why we need to engage our children in conversations about race and culture. Through these conversations, we can teach our children to recognize and reject misleading rhetoric that perpetuates prejudice and fear. It is the critical first step in dispelling biased misconceptions that lead one to wrongly believe that skin color has anything to do with a person’s worth.

I am saddened by the lessons our children learn when the person elected to the highest state office is reckless and haphazard when speaking. After all, our youngest learners know the importance of the word “governor.”

I hope teachers and caregivers will use this opportunity to have open and honest conversations about race in Maine. The words we choose bear consequence on growing minds. Let’s choose them carefully, because our children are listening.

Talya Edlund

Cape Elizabeth