Brunswick school chief: Put civics back in classrooms

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BRUNSWICK —  Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski argued in a Dec. 12 letter to the community that civics classes should be a graduation requirement.

He sought to quell anxiety about the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, although he also acknowledged there are concerns about threats the Trump White House could pose to some aspects of public education. 

“A national election does not necessarily dictate how we respect one another or the level of civility we model and follow,” Perzanoski wrote. “What is does mean is that we have to increase our knowledge and our children’s knowledge about how our national, state and local governments work and who the people are who hold those positions.”

In a phone call Dec. 15, Perzanoski lamented a lack of civic engagement in students and adults that he said has lasted for at least two decades, and that the recent election only amplified his perception that Americans need to be educated about how their government institutions work.

“If you start to talk with people about how to go about looking at a particular issue, and then ask them if they know who their local representative is or local senator, many of them can’t tell you,” he explained. “Americans don’t spend a lot of time observing and looking at what’s going on in their own government.”

At Brunswick High School, social studies department head Pam Wagner said students are required to pass a year-long United States history course, where civics, the Constitution, and elections are taught as smaller units. As adviser to the BHS student government, Wagner also oversees the school-wide mock election, and said the event usually gets a fairly high rate of participation.

But Perzanoski is advocating for a standalone civics course. He did not specify an ideal grade level for the material, but hopes to make a version of the course available in the adult education program, as well.

“This is going to take a little time,” he said.

In the letter, he said he expects to bring a program proposal before the School Board in January, and will convene a group of school faculty and staff to develop the curriculum.

Perzanoski vowed in the letter that the School Department will stay vigilant in tracking changes to federal and state education policy.

Since the November election, Perzanoski said he has heard concern “from some of our citizens about what’s going to happen to these federal acts, because they may have relatives or students that receive significant help from them.”

He mentioned specific laws – including the Elementary, Secondary and Schools Act; Individual Disabilities Education Act, and the McKinney-Vento Act for Homeless Children – that might be vulnerable under a new administration.

“It is also clear that we as a nation can no longer be apathetic about our attention to the politics of the United States, and we must have faith in the checks and balances of our government’s structure,” Perzanoski said in the letter.

 Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.