Each autumn, I’ve been lucky to find myself with much to be thankful for. The smell of a fall campfire, for one. The friend who takes me duck hunting and suggests good excuses when I miss every shot. And of course, the arrival of eggnog at Hannaford long before it is seasonally appropriate.

At the top of my gratitude list this year is our local schools, and the common sense that voters demonstrated in our recent MSAD 75 school board elections.

School board politics have been in the news a lot lately. Around the country, organized conservative activists ran school board campaigns based on opposing mask mandates and the teaching of something called “critical race theory,” or CRT. As near as I can tell, CRT isn’t actually being taught in K-12 schools, but I guess something doesn’t have to be true to be an effective boogeyman.

These campaigns worked in some states, but they fell flat in Maine. For the three open seats on the MSAD 75 school board, a slate of candidates endorsed by a local “Parents for Liberty” group ran a race straight from this national, anti-mask playbook. When the votes were tallied, that group was defeated by three candidates who spoke up for the importance of making decisions guided by science and supporting teachers. The overall margin across the district was 69%-31%.

This pronounced preference was a trend across the state. On November 4, the Bangor Daily News reported that “critical race theory and mask mandates were losing issues in Maine school board races.” Thank goodness for that.

I don’t know much about CRT, but from what I gather, the issue is really that some parents don’t want teachers talking about racism in class. Except, we send our kids to school to learn about the world we inhabit, and racism is an inescapable part of that world.

Take the famous study where the same resumes were sent to employers, some with “Black-sounding names” and others with “White-sounding names” at the top. Despite being identical in every other way, resumes with names like Lakisha or Jamal received 50 percent fewer responses than those with Emily or Greg. From policing to voting to transit, the examples are endless. A University of Arizona study found that Black people wait 32 percent longer for cars to slow down so they can cross the street, for goodness sake.

These factors help shape the country we live in. It doesn’t mean we’re all terrible people, but it does mean we are operating in a system that can do some pretty terrible things based on race. Our kids need to learn about that system, as they will be inheriting it one day. Telling an American history teacher they can’t teach about racism is like telling a math teacher they can’t teach about fractions — sure, we’d all prefer it wasn’t central to the topic, but here we are.

Frankly, I’m not a big fan of telling my kids’ teachers how to do their jobs in general. I had a taste of teaching in 2020, when my wife and I got to help “teach” our kids during remote learning. If there was one way to elevate my appreciation for our public school teachers, it was walking ever so briefly in their shoes. I say we let them do what we pay them (not well enough) for. In my experience, letting people know they are trusted to do a job is the best way to ensure they’ll do it well.

So that’s it: this year, I’m grateful for our dedicated teachers, our tireless school staff and administrators, our thoughtful school board members, and our sensible voters. Here’s to keeping our communities safe and learning.

Jeremy Cluchey lives in Bowdoinham. You can reach him at [email protected]

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