FAIRBANKS — Maida Buckley has made her life’s work getting Alaska youth interested in government and democracy.
The 68-year-old retired social studies teacher said that for democracy to flourish, people must be educated.
“If the founders feared for democracy for any reason, it was the uneducated that made them fear democracy,” Buckley said. “Rights might be inherent. Ideas need to be taught.
“If we are in a democracy, we depend on the people to make decisions. The underlying part of that is education.”
Buckley has been doing her part since the 1970s.
She has taught history, government, economics and Native American culture in public schools in Fairbanks, Anderson, Wrangell and King Cove.
Since retiring from the classroom, she has continued her work as an educator by orchestrating programs offering schoolchildren opportunities to practice civic engagement.
Buckley organizes Kids Voting, We the People and National History Day programs in Fairbanks.
Kids Voting is a program in which schoolchildren learn about elections and hold a vote.
We the People and National History Day are nationwide academic competitions that begin in local communities.
Buckley didn’t set out to teach government, let alone live in Alaska.
She was raised in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York. All four of her grandparents came to the United States from Eastern Europe, she said.
Her parents met at Manhattan Beach.
Buckley’s father worked as a civil servant for the New York City Department of Correction. Her mother was a freelance fashion illustrator.
Buckley has one sibling, an older brother.
She had a stereotypical 1950s Brooklyn upbringing. She attended Midwood High School, the same high school as Woody Allen. Jay Rabinowitz, who served as chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, is also an alumni, Buckley said.
Hers was a household where education was valued.
“It wasn’t a question of going to college. It was a question of which college,” she said.
Buckley studied history at Stony Brook University and then broke for the West Coast, joining a graduate program in American Social and Intellectual History at the University of Washington.
“I dropped out,” she said. “I learned I didn’t want to be a historian.”
She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She came up to Alaska from Seattle, where she had a job proofreading city code, on vacation to visit friends and wound up moving here.
She was working at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library as an assistant arctic bibliographer, which didn’t much suit her either — too much isolation — so she started substitute teaching.
A teaching job seemed better than the temporary work on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Buckley wanted a career.
She earned her teaching certificate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and settled on social studies.
“In social studies, our purvey is teaching democracy. My job was much bigger than teaching history,” she said.
One important concept Buckley has taught students over the years is that events happen for multiple, complex reasons.
“Nothing ever happens for one reason alone,” she said.
Buckley has voted in every national election since reaching voting age. The responsibility feels more important with every passing election, she said.
Buckley said that programs, such as Kids Voting, that connect schoolchildren with real-world events have the most impact in teaching them about government and democracy.
“Students who do best are involved with programs that connect them to the community,” she said.
Buckley is married to a fellow educator and has two grown sons.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.