By Nathan McIvor
Dr. Robert Breckenridge regards someone with kindness and thoughtfulness in equal measure. The retiring Lincoln Academy Social Studies teacher has retained his happy acceptance of other cultures, as well as his innate curiosity, throughout his life.
“The teacher is in the classroom to present the world to the child [and] help young people find civilization. They are the custodians of culture.” He enjoys “watching minds blossom.”
Dr. Breckenridge’s house sits directly across the street from Lincoln Academy, eliminating a commute. Convenient on his part, walking across the street for work for the past eleven years allows him to experience firsthand the changes brought about on campus since he began in 2006, watching it “change and grow.” He is ”really happy” that Lincoln Academy is trying to stay abreast of developments in technology and education: “our technology department is a huge asset in preparing students for the world,” praising the work done by the departing Maya Crosby. A proponent of the international program, he “boarded several of the first students” prior to the current dormitories’ construction. Finding the program helpful for all students involved, he is glad the school has furthered the program. A global traveler himself, he “is still up for” international experiences in his golden years. One could say his life has been composed of traveling from one place to another.
Dr. Breckenridge was raised in Canton, Illinois, sixty miles north of Springfield, Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace. After graduating from Western Illinois University he landed in front of a draft board petitioning as a Conscientious Objector. He was dispatched to Nicaragua instead of Vietnam (“I don’t believe in killing people in the name of the state,” he said). While serving he met his future wife Maria (originally from Lima, Peru). The experience sparked his love of the Latin American region; his philosophy of encouraging international curiosity was thus formed.
After giving two years of his life abroad, he began graduate study at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas; awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, he spent his fifth and final year in Lima, Peru (Maria’s home city) before graduating with Ph.D. in Religious Studies.
“I was married with two sons and had to pay for them, so I worked in a field unrelated to education.” A pause. “Would you like to know what I did?”
Dr. Breckenridge spent eleven years in a field of no relevance to what would be his life’s calling: “I was a medical examiner for Dallas County. They would find bodies;” his role being to determine the cause of death. “It’s why I always wear bow ties, because if you bent down over a corpse wearing a necktie, you would get… things on it.” That way he would always look professional. “But,” he said regarding the cadaverous nature of his work, “you still have to write well and present evidence.”
When his children were older, he taught elementary school in Dallas before moving to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, to begin working in secondary education. Unfortunately, town budget cuts eliminated foreign languages (he taught Spanish). He had already bought a house in Maine, one across the street from a private high school; a prudent job opening occurred.
When asked what surprised him upon teaching at Lincoln Academy, Dr. Breckenridge cites “the high quality of the faculty here in rural Maine, [especially] the degree of intellectual curiosity” among the school’s ranks.
He is the only faculty member in the Social Studies department to hold a doctorate.
He points to a brown envelope: “I wrote to Paul Lepage a very polite letter commenting on his policies.” He instills civic values in his teaching, as “our democracy depends on awareness” and extols the virtue of civil discourse as being “utterly crucial to share ideas and persuade others. While at the Academy, Dr. Breckenridge has advised the LA Philosophy Club, a discussion-based group allowing the student body to discuss a selected topic (Do We Still Need Feminism, for example) to pick apart. The club encourages curiosity; making sense of human existence and examining various ideas while encourages students to be perceptive as they sort these ideas out for themselves, creating valuable experiences.
During his years of living in Newcastle, Dr. Breckenridge has made deep connections to the local community, an asset when he advised Alpha Sigma Gamma, Lincoln Academy’s service fraternity. Vetting its members by induction, the group sends upperclassmen to aid local people in whatever tasks are needed. Mowing lawns, raking leaves, working at local events such as the Haiti Charity Dinner and the annual Damariscotta Fishladder Festival; though trying, resetting tombstones in the Hillsdale Cemetery was also a project in the previous year.
Every year, Alpha Sigma Gamma participates in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Computer assistance, moving furniture, the usual stratum of tasks, but based in Damariscotta’s Second Congregational Church, taking phone calls from locals and dispatch a brother to aid the person in whatever they need. Breckenridge’s connections to the community often provide a roster of the to-be-helped when progress is slow. It is a special occasion; where else can you call for assistance—free of charge—and have someone help you with whatever task you need.
The club makes an impact on the larger world; its community service bringing out better natures and encouraging humility, kindness, and selfishness. Valuable lesson for growing teenagers, who are “helping the community while also being part of the community,” in the words of Kaden Pendleton’17, “and Dr. Breckenridge fostered that.” ASG enables Lincoln Academy students to improve the lives of their peers and neighbors in the surrounding area. Members are consistently glad they participated.
What is next? Dr. Breckenridge has signed up as a volunteer in Uganda through the Methodist Church, noting that he would be happy to go when he is dispatched. He will continue to give to others in the model of an examined life, full and content.
Nathan McIvor is a 2017 graduate of Lincoln Academy and a current student at the University of Maine at Farmington. He has worked as a Lincoln Academy Communications Intern since 2015.