Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version

February 2002


Published by the Education Alliance at Brown University. Copyright 2002 Brown University. Used by permission.


As any good Maine educator knows, the idea in the title of this paper, that "we're from the state and we're here to help" is an oxymoron. In a part of the United States that defiantly prides itself on perpetuating traditions like town meetings and other versions of direct or almost-direct democracy, being told what to do by someone else, particularly by someone pulling rank, is viewed skeptically-- to put it mildly (Ruff, Smith, & Miller, 2000). Yet on school visit after school visit, we heard a staffer of the Center for Inquiry on Secondary Education (CISE), which is centrally involved with Maine's high school improvement effort, repeat this phrase. Was he being naive or self-defeating? To the contrary, he was proving his credentials as an insider. Said with the right mix of sarcasm and twinkle in the eye, this line was a way of marking familiarity with local cultural convention. Something akin to "I know rhat you think this proposition is absurd. I think it is often absurd too, because I recognize that too often your sensibility seems to be cavalierly overlooked by state bureaucrats. So I'll say it, we'll laugh, and then we'll get down to business."