2017-12-14 / Editorial

Let’s get schools back to basics

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

With all the issues we have in our state, our country and even the world, it may seem insignificant to push for a debate over what our kids are learning in the classroom, but ultimately, I think it’s crucial for the future success of our society and economy.

Let me be clear, our teachers do a masterful job educating our kids. They really do. They especially make do with less, oftentimes buying their own supplies while being forced to infuse standards and mandates that ultimately aim to raise test scores rather than creativity and ingenuity. My hat goes off to them in the important and tough job they do, day in and day out.

There are a few things that have left the classroom, for one reason or another, over the years that I find interesting. Seemingly, core life skills like civics, cooking, personal finances, community service, and even cursive have gravitated away from the curriculum in many schools across our state. Yes, there are some that are slowly starting to bring it back. Thornton Academy’s infusion of civics and Old Orchard Beach High School’s community service requirement are good examples of schools graduating well-rounded kids. There is a lack of consistency across the state though that should be addressed. This was something I long advocated for when I was a member of the Maine State Board of Education and now in the legislature.

Many parents I speak to have stated that their son or daughter in elementary school is not learning cursive. I applaud schools’ efforts around increasing the use of technology in the classroom like their ‘hour of coding’ lessons and teaching the next generation how to type and effectively use 21st century tools. Critical in this day and age, but while technology is a great asset for education, nothing replaces the need to know how to sign your name on checks and other important documents. I’m concerned that we will have an entire generation who can work an iPad, but will not be able to do something as simple as physically writing something down.

When I was in elementary school, it was mandatory to learn cursive handwriting. When I bought my condo, I had to sign documents. The back of my credit cards and front of my driver’s license all have my signature. On a weekly basis, I receive letters from constituents who write to me in cursive. Good thing I learned it. Original historical documents are in cursive. Yes, we might not all become historians, but we should bestow onto the next generation the tools they need to interpret them without the lens of someone else’s analysis.

I’m not saying we need to take a ton of time away from the regular lesson plans for an intensive handwriting course, but the ability to sign your signature and recognize cursive writing might be helpful.

What about registering to vote? When you turn 18, you don’t magically understand what it means to be an active and engaged American citizen. Much like there is no handbook for life. We need to ensure students are learning the basic pillars of our democratic society. The more educated the population is about their own government and political system, the less likely they are to be fooled by the 30 second sound bites and the toxic partisan rhetoric that clouds the evening news.

What about how to balance a checkbook? Managing debt, either student loan or credit cards? Compound interest? Any of the things we adults have to deal with on a regular basis, but sadly never learned it in school.

At Saco Middle School, I learned how to make a mean taco salad, but not everyone does.

A solid liberal arts education creates a foundation for life long learning and for young people to have a sampling of knowledge across many fields. The problem is when we don’t connect what we are learning in the classroom to the real world, we lose folks. We also do them a major disservice.

Some say let students Google to find the answers. Are we really comfortable turning over the keys of educating our kids to a search engine? I’m a big fan and user of Google, but come on. Some might say parents must be the ones. And yes, parents have a responsibility, but in an age of major income and wealth inequality, parents are doing all they can just to keep their families above water and put food on the table. What better place to learn some of these skill sets than in an institution of learning?

I think it’s worth a conversation. I think it’s worth our time to delve into. The next generation deserves at least that much.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president/ CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.

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