The Education Watershed

The Weekly Packet, June 11, 2015

Graduation season turns my thoughts to our watershed—our education watershed. Perhaps it was our 5-6th graders visiting nearby Snow’s Cove to learn about the Bagaduce. They now know why oysters that grow in the top layer of water at Little Island Oyster Company are sweeter and less briney than those in deeper water. I know other students on this peninsula who can explain how a nitrogen atom from Mt. Katahdin can turn up in the chin whisker of a right whale in the gulf of Maine!

Our education watershed begins with a trickle. As its stewards, our efforts and sacrifices are for beneficiaries unborn, a concept that redefines our work as teachers and parents and friends; our work as stewards of a unique educational vision; as caretakers of a particular school and community; as nurturers of something the world needs: our great grandchildren’s children.

I think back to when the Penobscot River signified access to the interior of the state, when Bangor was known as “the lumber capital of the world;” to when the British Royal Navy sought massive pines for His Majesty’s Ships masts, to say nothing of strategic control of Northern Maine, then part of Massachusetts; and the river meant trade and seasonal migration routes for the Penobscots, Abenakis, and Etchemin—the indigenous peoples.

As our students know, in the age of sail the big river’s currents launched Downeaster ships on blue water trade routes. We sent ice to the tropics; bricks to the east coast cities of the US; sea captains to the global trade. This is also the story of superseding technologies, as lumber, fishing, the frozen water trade, granite, and shipbuilding were made obsolete by steel skyscrapers, steamships, refrigeration, and global competition and succeeding colonial empires.

The Penobscot River education watershed still reaches far…if you have the imagination. We should be imagining myriad futures and occupations, things that one’s forebears might find unimaginable, for we are the superseding technologies. And it is about caring intensively for the purity of the local water, what flows downstream, and where that stream goes; caring intensively about the quality of childhood itself; how it evolves into adulthood; and how that adulthood leads to service, learning, leadership, and fulfilling lives.

We are heirs of past stewards, trying to be worthy in the present, while protecting our heirs downstream. Each school budget is really

an investment in the health of a living watershed extending lifetimes and

localities beyond this place—but still in our watershed.

With such stewardship: the future is now. We cannot put off the responsibility of heirs nor pause to consider whether or not to purify our contribution to the stream. The current never stops; won’t tolerate deliberation. The vessels with our exports and imports are loading now. We send cargo of individual lives into diverse tributaries, entrusting them to unique voyages—hoping to hear back when they arrive safely on foreign shores.

May these shipments to the future be a contribution that is valued, relevant, and useful. We are shipping new avatars of the old ice, lumber, bricks, and granite to harbors downstream from this time and place. We cannot anticipate the exact nature of future cargo, yet as with any watershed, the decisions made upstream affect lives a long way off—thank goodness…

Because we can still assume the future value of the civility, ethical decision-making, imagination, and creativity we’re teaching today.

Education trends are also superseding technologies—the pendulum is always in motion. The children downstream are the measure of our success; and those children will be the success of today’s measures. May our students be captains of great voyages; may they bring new “ice” to new tropics and their voyages take them to exotic beaches. And every life is its own exotic beach.


Todd R. Nelson is principal of Brooksville Elementary School. Their 8th grade class embarks on June 16th at 7:00pm.


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