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Last month, I attended my party’s biannual convention at the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. It was a relatively harmonious affair. Chairman Rick Bennett, Republican National Committee Co-Chairwoman Sharon Day from Florida, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul all emphasized the importance of welcoming into the party all types of Americans, accepting that we will not agree on everything, and working together to promote core Republican values of freedom, opportunity, individual responsibility, and legitimate limited government.
At dinner, we honored Sawin Millet of Waterford for his integrity, hard work, and years of public service as a teacher, selectman, legislator, and member of the administrations of five different governors from three different parties. Humorist Gary Crocker amused us with anecdotes, and admonished us to be true to ourselves.
One of the things that my party did while we were there was to amend our platform to oppose the Common Core Curriculum and Maine Learning Results program. Maine Learning Results is Maine’s version of a core curriculum for pre-K through 12th-grade students. It was first adopted in 1996, predates the Common Core, and is more extensive than the Core.
I disagree with the party’s position.
The Common Core Curriculum is an initiative started around 2006 by state governors and education commissioners. It sets national standards in two major areas: English and mathematics.
The standard for the English language arts includes an understanding of classical mythology, America’s founding documents and literature, and Shakespeare. It includes the ability to read and listen to complicated material, and to write and speak clear and coherent arguments, explanations and narratives.
The standard for mathematics includes the ability to perform basic arithmetic, calculate carefully and precisely, solve problems, model and reason abstractly. These standards set goals for students to learn. They do not dictate how teachers teach.
Maine Learning Results was updated to include the Common Core standards. MLR’s guiding principles are that every student leaves Maine schools with the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, be a lifelong learner, a practical problem solver, a responsible citizen and a good thinker. It sets specific goals in eight content areas: career and education, English language arts, health education, mathematics, science and technology, social studies, arts and languages.
At this point, I have been a student, a parent, and even, at times, a teacher. I have no doubt about the value of education. It is the key to people realizing their potential. It takes time and experience to figure out where that potential lies. It makes sense to start by teaching general knowledge and skills before specializing.
Education works best when everyone is committed to it. Parents have primary responsibility, but we don’t know it all and we can’t do it alone. Education requires us to cede some authority as our children grow and become independent.
And, society has a legitimate interest in how its citizens are educated. There is a certain amount we all need to know and share in order to be citizens: some basic knowledge, skills, abilities, and shared values that unite us and enable us to live and work together. At a minimum, they include a common language, a belief in the rule of law, a commitment to the peaceful, democratic transition of power, and the basic skills a person needs to live and work.
In our modern, complex world, it is entirely appropriate for government to try to ensure that our children are taught a few basics.