AUBURN — At the beginning of the year, Maine Sunday Telegram columnist Alan Caron called for “a movement to renew American intelligence” and urged Americans to “raise the bar on what we expect from … our children on learning.”

These are noble ends, old ends, but unfortunately our educational system does not provide time, resources or emphasis on application of knowledge to help Maine students to take action on major issues of local, state, national and international communities.

Increasing intelligence, promoting literacy and encouraging active participation are nothing new. Famous educators and philosophers, including John Dewey, Reginald Revans and Jean Piaget, dedicated years of their professional careers to championing experience and reflection as best routes for motivated exploration and acquisition of knowledge and content. Objectives such as leadership development, team building, problem solving, raising self-efficacy, building competitive advantage and engaging in the public sphere are just as relevant today as they were at the beginning of the 20th century.

I recently served on a Maine Department of Education teacher leader group that studied the decline of social studies education, knowledge and civic participation across the state. Issues that were reported by educators included little time to implement social studies curriculum because of profuse amounts of testing in reading and math; no state-mandated tests for social studies or science and ineffective professional development for teachers. However, there is an organization in the state that is providing support and resources to change this.

The Camden Conference was founded in 1987 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization whose mission is to foster informed discourse on world issues. Maine students are designing and implementing projects and solutions that address local, national and international issues in conjunction with the Camden Conference in the Classroom Program.

The Camden Conference supports Maine teachers who meet twice a year to develop programming for students about world affairs and contemporary global issues: subjects in need of serious attention if we are to prepare students for the multitude of global changes to come.


Students complete courses aligned with topics of the conference. This year, students are studying refugees and global migration, creating solution-based final projects and research papers that they share with public audiences.

The conference subsidizes tickets for 100 high school and 100 college students to participate in the Camden Conference’s annual foreign policy event in Camden, Belfast, Rockland and Portland in February. Students interact with journalists, diplomats, and policy experts from around the world and use the information they gain from the conference, school coursework and projects to foster change at the local, state, national or international level.

Here are a few examples of student projects that were created as a result of engaged participation in education opportunities about world affairs:

 A fully translated handbook for newly settled immigrant families to assist with navigating a new school system upon settlement in the Lewiston, Auburn and Portland areas.

 Participation in the National High School Essay Contest, writing from the perspective of a diplomat working to address the global refugee/internally displaced people crisis.

 Movies, newscasts and podcasts to share with peers about immigrant experiences.

 Original works of art to show and sell to benefit local and global charities.

• Geographic Information System studies and research papers about global climate change, commercialization, poverty, technology and migration.

The world has made major shifts in the 21st century, and many of us went to school in the last century. Social studies teachers need to address 21st-century issues. Time and costs are very relevant for learning before teaching. Organizations like the Camden Conference that support Maine teachers can increase the number of student projects directly tied to relevant world issues. Interested community support is also vital to helping organizations to meet the needs of youth to increase informed action and preparation as effective citizens of the state, nation and world.

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