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A basic skill

1:37 PM EST, November 15, 2011

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Over the years, an awful lot of the responsibility of raising children has been pawned off on our school systems, and sometimes it appears to have been at the expense of the three Rs.

And any properly schooled person can certainly tell you that the three R's aren't all classes that begin with R, being reading writing and arithmetic, or, in the tradition of the great American colloquialism of educational tradition: Readin' Ritin' and Rithmetic.

Time was when mastering these skills gave a citizen a leg up on the competition, but as the Jeffersonian ideal of free public education became a reality in the American republic, literacy became a necessity, even for people who make a living doing physical labor.

Thus responsibilities of imparting different and more advanced kinds of knowledge on the citizenry has become a requirement of our public schools.

Unfortunately, while some rather esoteric kinds of learning have become part of the core curriculum of our schools, other more essential kinds of learning haven't necessarily been regarded as worthy of taking up classroom time. One such necessary skill that is all too frequently omitted from the lexicon of courses offered at the high school level is what Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and others refer to as financial literacy.

An unfortunate reality is Harford County's is among the majority of Maryland school systems that don't require a course in basic finances. The reason it is unfortunate is because financial literacy is a natural and practical extension of one of the original three Rs, arithmetic.

It is a wonderful thing that arithmetic in our public schools is such that a student is required to achieve a degree of proficiency in algebra, and those who are so inclined are able to avail themselves of the basics of calculus, the advanced form of mathematics devised by the likes of Isaac Newton to explain the inner workings of the physical universe.

But what of the basics of dollars and cents?

It is possible for a student to graduate from Harford County Public Schools with a solid foundation in the kind of mathematics employed by the likes of Albert Einstein or Euclid, but not know how to balance a checkbook, or comprehend an amortization schedule for a home mortgage, or understand how credit card interest rates are calculated, or even parse the pre-tax and post tax deductions noted on the stub of a paycheck.

Thus we return to Comptroller Franchot, who has lately been circulating a petition seeking to get the attention of the Maryland General Assembly in the direction of passing a financial literacy educational requirement, comparable to what's on the books in Virginia, as well as in the Maryland counties of Allegany, Carroll, Charles and Talbot.

Granted, Franchot is a politician who, though lacking the flash of one of his predecessors, the late Louis L. Goldstein, nonetheless has a penchant for eye-catching promotions.

In this case, though, he is definitely on to something.

Christine Feldmann, of the comptroller's public affairs office, said Franchot has been pushing the idea increasingly since he took office and came to understand just how little many people know about the basics of finance.

There are many requirements school systems have been burdened with teaching our children as years, and fads, have come and gone. Financial literacy, however, isn't a fad, and it's something of a travesty that it isn't as universally taught as the three Rs.