The Arrow Of Cosmic Time And Space Remains Vital To Our Sanity

To those who saw it in its very first theatrical run, the opening crawl at the very top of the original 1977 “Star Wars” film automatically dispelled any notions about cosmic civilizations and a linear march of time. We all got the reference to a “galaxy far, far away” at the outset, but “a long time ago” was all at once brilliant and mind-blowing. 

Inherent in that notion is the idea that civilizations outside our own solar system have been living and dying since time immemorial. And the civilizations depicted in this bit of space cinema also appear to have become masters of their own galactic quadrants, if not their whole galaxy.

Yet here on parochial Earth, we are wedded to the linear march of time in a way that is not likely to change until the very far future. Here, we are guided by our own history of technological advancement in a way that extraterrestrial civilizations may find antiquated. They may already be inured to the fact that they are mere technological babes in the woods when compared to much more advanced civilizations they, themselves, may have encountered. 

We, however, remain galactic neophytes when coming to scientific terms with our place in the cosmos.

We are just beginning to understand our own inner solar system. We barely have a handle on how our own Moon formed. We continually question whether Venus, our nearest planet over, might have once had habitable conditions. And we do the same for Mars. There are even large gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how life arose on Earth.

Thus, the linear march of time for us humans remains a biggie, even though it’s one of the few reassuring measures of our own evolution.

We still have major questions about the nature of time itself. As the 2020 Nobel laureate Roger Penrose again recently asserted, cosmic time may even be cyclical, coincident with an infinite loop of collapse and rebirth. Thus, in Penrose’s view, our current cosmos is part of an infinite cyclical and temporal loop.  At some point, such distances and such timescales may not be as humbling or as daunting. 

For now, though, we look up and watch time pass with every celestial movement of stars and planets in front of us.  Perhaps that’s why we love a well-made watch; or a town clock in some forgotten belfry. Every time we hear that second hand tick or the town clock striking the hour, it lets us

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Funding for education is vital now more than ever

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Joseph Hennessey teaches English at Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford. He was the 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year.

Though I used the term frequently throughout my year of service and public platform as Maine’s 2019 teacher of the year, “essential public service” has taken on different meaning since the COVID-19 pandemic has taken root in the United States. As the social fabric has been stretched, it has become clearer where the gaps in the fabric exist, and where essential workers of all persuasions are striving to fill them. In a time of uncertainty and projected budget shortfalls, it is tempting to question the additive value and fiscal cost of our public services; public education is not exempt from that scrutiny.

In anticipation of calls for new efficiencies or reductions in services offered through education centers at all levels, I find it rather timely that Educate Maine has released a new report, “How is Public Education Funded in Maine?” Through comprehensive research, data analysis and policy recommendations, the report seeks to dispel misconceptions about how the public education system is funded in the state, to explain how those funds are allocated to early childhood programs, K-12 schools, centers of higher education and adult education programs and to consider those current realities in order to plan for a robust future.

As a teacher in central Maine, several elements from the report stood out as especially resonant. First, despite the resolution first passed in 2004 that the state government ought to provide 55 percent of total funding for public schools, it has yet to meet that threshold in the intervening 15 years. Second, per pupil costs for K-12 students have risen 24 percent since 2004 (when adjusted for inflation) without a comparable increase in funding. Third, state funding for full-time college students has fallen 20 percent since 2000 (when adjusted for inflation). Fourth, adult education programs constitute only 5 percent of total expenditures. And fifth, the majority of 4-year-old children in Maine are not enrolled in any form of preschool or prekindergarten program.

When the above is coupled with the reality that per pupil funding in Maine is the lowest by dollar amount in New England, one could find the report sobering. Yet, initiatives such as these are meant to help us make more informed decisions moving forward. As a citizen, I see the above as opportunities for further development of human capital; as a professional, I see the above as opportunities to reaffirm our support for all schools. Without question, Maine’s public education system has a proud tradition dating back to statehood itself, and the communities in which I and my colleagues serve as teachers remain committed to their students.

The preschools, K-12 facilities, community colleges, universities and adult education centers of Maine are community pillars that provide more than academic learning — they

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