What your children didn't learn in school.

The autumnal chill has descended upon New England. Along with the pretty leaves and pumpkins, political banners now litter lawns in every town. It is election time again and the newspapers are filled with opinions, pundits and polls. Almost always, Education becomes one of the topics of discussion by everyone involved. Everybody is for education. You will NEVER hear a politician say, "Education is overrated, what America needs is ignorance!" They will never say it, but I fear they not only want it, they almost have it.

Whenever I hear debates on the topic of education I always hear arguments about the fiscal side of providing our children with a good environment. Other popular topics are technology, or school year length, optional programs and alternative teaching styles. Just once I want to hear someone say: "Sit these kids down and make sure they do not move on to grade ‘X’ before they reach an educational level of ‘Y’" and enforce that policy.

I am not talking about any fancy smancy courses. I am talking about honest to goodness important stuff like: Reading, Writing and Mathematics. These are what children NEED to learn. I am not saying that science, history, music and art are not important subjects to learn. What I am saying is that out in the world, people need to know how to read and comprehend, communicate and perform at least rudimentary arithmetic operations. Let me tell you, I see a large number of children every day and they can all play soccer, or dance or surf the net. But, I will be damned if they can read a sign, communicate what they want or figure out how much of something they can get for the money they have.

Each day I see a lot of kids. Once school has ended I can see as many as 100 children between the ages of 8 and 15 walk through my store. While I do welcome them, and their allowances, I am appalled at their level of intellectual development. Let me give you an example. I had a customer come into the store the other day. He was about 13 or 14 and was wearing a Newington High School Football shirt. He was in to buy some sports cards. The packs that he wanted were $1.50 each and he wanted five of them. Having only $7 in his pocket, he was unsure whether he had enough for the five packs. I offered to give him an extra pack if he could figure it out, including the tax, by himself. I went so far as to tell him that the tax was 6% when he asked. After five full minutes he confessed that he could not figure it out, so I agreed to help him through the problem. I asked him, what 5 times 1.50 was and he did not know. So I asked him what 5 times 1 was and he replied 5. We were on our way. I then asked what 5 times .50 was. After a few minutes he said he did not know. Sighing I asked him what half of 5 was and he replied after a pause, 2.50. My next question next was what was 5 plus 2.50. Several minutes passed and I could see that he was becoming frustrated. But, he suddenly blurted out "7.50!" I beamed with pride. Next was the tax. After several moments he said that he did not understand what I meant by 6%. I replied that it meant six cents for every dollar spent. He quickly replied .42 cents! The addition of 7.50 and .42 took a little time so I explained that there was actually another three cents tax because of the additional .50 cents on top of the seven dollars. He was frustrated and I was appalled, so we just let the matter drop. I gave him the extra pack for being a sport. In retrospect that was mistake because I just taught him that not knowing something is okay if your stupidity frustrates somebody enough to get something for free. Come to think of it, that seems to be the battle cry for people today.

This was just one example of many. I am not exaggerating when I estimate that fully 75% of the kids who come in to the store cannot read well, speak well or do simple arithmetic. It is a frightening spectre of the future. One interesting group of people who come in are the "home schooled" children. You see, whenever I see a school aged child enter the store when they should be in school I ask them if school got out early or something like that. Two answers are the most frequent: "Teacher’s conferences" (there are a ton of these) and "I am home schooled". Now this may be a gross generalization, but I have yet to meet a home schooled child that could not read a sign, communicate their need and do basic math. I applaud the efforts of these parents and their results. Educators should heed these results as well.

Ultimately it is up to the parents to make sure their children are learning what they need to know. Like most programs that politics and government become involved with, education has become a morass of complications and bureaucracy. The result is that children are not only lacking the education they need, but they are learning they do not really need it. America, as a society, has decided to accept that this generation is not as well educated as the last. They certainly have more school years under their belts but I certainly cannot say they are smarter. Young men and women are now graduating COLLEGE that cannot read, do arithmetic or find France on a map. Universities do not care. Money rolls in. Professors publish. Life goes on.

For my part, I will continue to challenge my younger clientele to multiply pack price by quantity. I will continue to make them ask me for something by name instead of pointing. At the next opportunity I have to speak to a politician about education I am simply going to tell him or her: "If you truly want to improve education among your constituents, I recommend teaching them the basic fundamentals and instilling their importance".