I try, as a general rule, not to indulge in nostalgia because the past is a slippery animal. It shapeshifts through memories.

Take, for example, the time I am currently obsessing over: that oddly golden era for our country that was post-World War II until, oh, say the early 1960s.

We often think of that stretch of time as our collective “best” era, but in reality, things were hard here for lots of people. Arguably the majority of people.

Access to equal education wasn’t a thing until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Civil Rights Act took until 1964 and Jim Crow laws were on the books until 1968. The Indian Child Welfare Act wasn’t even passed until 1978. Being gay wasn’t decriminalized until 1962 when Illinois became the first state to mark it legal. If you were a woman, you couldn’t even have a credit card in your own name until 1974.

The list goes on. My point is, for most of us in this country, the past isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Nevertheless, even knowing all that, I found myself sighing wistfully and waxing nostalgic for the “good old days” as I read about small towns in Maine (and elsewhere) facing staffing shortages and the possibility of disbanding.


I get it. The job as it stands today means long hours, low pay, little respect and heaps of abuse. Who would sign up for that?

What happened to the days of the town clerk being one of the pillars of the community? I remember my mom taking me into our tiny little town hall when I was old enough to register to vote and the joyful solemnity with which the clerk handled my paperwork. I felt welcomed into the adult workings of our community. The clerk’s position within our community was so clear to me – and it was one of polite authority and knowledge.

This current state of affairs, where folks feel free to hurl abuse and shout invective at overworked and underpaid officials who are just trying to do their jobs? I don’t like it. And yes, it feels representative of what is happening in every corner of our day-to-day, and I don’t like that either.

It makes me want to open a bowling alley and host league nights and youth tournaments to try and restore some sense of cohesion or something.

What I really think about is reinvigorating civics classes. Creating active, hands-on, experiential-style learning environments, tailored all the way down to kindergarten level and all the way up to seniors, where students become well-versed in the inner workings of town governance.

Not politics – governance.


Imagine if, in addition to the community volunteer hours required (I love this) to graduate, high school students also took a semester in active civics. Building, ideally, on history courses, this work would be very rooted in the nitty-gritty here and now.

Students could choose a committee to sit in on and follow, reporting back to the class what they learned. They would practice debating (in the classical sense) better ways of governance and making decisions in the future, learning the art of disagreeing without resorting to name-calling or threats.

All this while potentially envisioning and creating real, working solutions to problems presented, and possibly also developing a sense of respect for those who make it their profession to see that our towns function. Maybe even thrive.

Maine’s small towns are too cool to give up on. Our way of life, too meaningful to abandon. After all, “as goes Maine, so goes the nation” was once a widely recognized truism. Let’s make it so again. Let’s recommit to a working knowledge of democratic governance and invest in civic pride. Let’s make a future that is worthy of being accurately remembered. Let’s make America better.

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