The Universal Notebook: Practical public education

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The Maine legislature is currently considering LD 1284, “An Act to Require Personal Finance to be Taught as a Separate Course to Obtain a High School Diploma.”

Not sure why that’s necessary given that just four years ago Gov. Mills signed a law that repealed proficiency-based diplomas and added new graduation requirements, including two years of personal finance or the equivalent in standards achievement.

Edgar Allen BeemIf the legislature approves LD 1284, Maine will become the 21st state to require a one-semester course in personal finance, part of a national trend toward adopting a personal finance curriculum developed by the non-profit Next Gen Personal Finance.

“We all know the value of personal financial literacy,” said LD 1284 sponsor Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick. “Too often, Maine youth and young adults are not given the personal finance education they need to make well-informed decisions that will impact their lives.”

While I’m not a big fan of state mandates or standardized curriculums, I certainly understand the value of providing our kids with some practical financial education. I sure wish I had had some back in high school, but we were more idealistic than practical-minded in the 1960s. Doing my taxes and balancing my checkbook were not high priorities compared to the war in Vietnam, civil rights and doing my own thing.

But as long as Maine is going to get into the practical life skills business, here are a few others they might consider.

Every Maine high school graduate should have to pass Survival 2.0, a course in how to change the oil in their car and a flat tire, wire a light, unclog a sink or toilet (perhaps even install same), and do rudimentary repairs around the house. In my day, most high schools had an industrial arts wing, but many college prep oriented schools long ago farmed out all hands-on learning to regional voc-techs.

A handy education might also include some basic culinary skills, elements of sewing and how to plant and tend a garden. And if we’re going to get serious about home economics, a high school graduate should also have to pass a Private Property Primer, real estate being the source of wealth for 90 percent of millionaires.

And while we’re at it, since close to half of first marriages and two-thirds of second marriages end in divorce, a course in Marital Relations 101 wouldn’t hurt. Nor would a class in the Fundamentals of Childcare. Maybe not as a high school graduation requirements but as a prerequisite for getting a marriage license.

One of my personal pet peeves could be addressed with a short tutorial in How to Dress. Not Dress for Success, just a few lessons in Fashion Faux Pas that might reduce the number of women walking around in public wearing what look like nothing but pantyhose and the number of men parading around town in tank tops and basketball baggies.

As well-meaning as it all may be, much of what Maine requires for a high school diploma amounts to good academic training for the mind but useless trivia in everyday life. I haven’t had to solve a quadratic equation even once in my adult life for instance, but I have to pay someone every few years to de-bug my computer and fix that persistent slow leak in my right rear tire.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen review column.


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