As someone running for Trustee for Coeur d’Alene School District #271, I am deeply committed to shaping the school experience for students in North Idaho. Today’s students will eventually become our co-workers, business owners, spiritual and community leaders, and teachers who educate the next generation. Our responsibility is to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to meet and shape the future. Our schools play a crucial role in preparing our students for success in an ever-changing world.

The Responsibility of Schools

I believe a child’s family life plays the most critical role in shaping that child’s character. However, the school environment must complement that formation. To the extent that a student’s home life may be troubled or unsupportive, although a school cannot and should not attempt to replace the family, it should nevertheless provide an environment that can serve as a stabilizing and positive influence. But schools should “stay in their lane,” focusing on their core mission of education and letting parents take the lead in raising their children.

This is in recognition that children spend a good deal of their lives in schools: seven or eight hours per day, nearly 180 days of the year. Moreover, what happens in our schools tremendously impacts who our children become as adults. But every second of that time should be focused on the school’s primary mission. Providing a solid and well-rounded education is a monumental task. Our schools cannot accomplish that task by spending valuable time on social engineering. “Staying in their lane” means that a school’s job is to provide children with knowledge and skills, not creeds and crusades. A proper education teaches children how to think, not what to think. 

Emphasizing Fundamentals

The primary role of schools is to provide core academic knowledge and skills. Grammar schools should establish a solid foundation of literacy in each student, as well as teach fundamental mathematics. Beyond that, the school should focus on teaching history, general science, grammar, spelling, social studies, geography, physical education, and literature. Students should have the opportunity to receive instruction in art and music. Beyond grammar school, high schools can offer a broader array of subjects and more specialized instruction in these fields of study, such as biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, logic, geometry, foreign languages, and so on. 

What I am saying here is nothing new. But it bears emphasis because too many schools and teachers in our country are intent on distorting the purpose of instruction. These subjects are not taught to shape a child’s viewpoint. They are taught to give these children factual information along with problem-solving and analytical skills that will help them think about and grapple with real-world problems they encounter later in life. They should learn to think critically and to question assumptions. The goal is to enable them to develop solutions to problems by using their minds, not by applying rote answers.

Instilling a foundation of knowledge and fostering intellectual skills is essential to helping children become contributing members of society. A good grammar and high school education should prepare young men and women for any endeavor they want to pursue as an adult, whether to continue to college and enter a profession or enter the workforce right away. A high school graduate should possess all the intellectual tools necessary to achieve any goal that the individual aspires to and the capability to discern how to reach that goal given the proper dedication, sufficient hard work, and necessary self-discipline.

The School Culture Represents a Wider Society

At the same time, schools are more than just places to learn facts and figures. When a child enters school, it is often that child’s first real encounter – albeit in a limited, controlled environment – with having to negotiate “the world.” School is also an important social structure, filled with peers but also with an established hierarchy of authority and order. There is competition in the form of grades as well as social status. There are performance and behavior expectations. There are schedules, deadlines, and tests. There are rules and codes that are written and established. There are also unwritten rules imposed by the culture of the school that a child must perceive and navigate.

In many ways, the school system introduces children to our broader economic and social systems, where there is work to do, both directed and on one’s own. There are people to whom one has to relate in one way or another and choices to be made – how hard to work, how long to study, how much effort to put into a friendship or an assignment, and so on. Children discover their talents, aptitudes, and strengths, as well as their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Students learn to acquire a degree of independence, being forced to operate in an environment that is more challenging than the limited and less threatening confines of their homes and families.

Learning about one’s skills, particularly as they compare to others, and how to operate in the school environment is in addition to the academic training that occurs in the classroom. Students have further opportunities to branch out into extracurricular activities such as drama, sports, dance, debate, technology, chess, band, and other special interests. Like classes, these activities are also conducted under the direction, instruction, guidance, and supervision of school staff. 

All of these school constructs – the culture, the academic tasks, the social structure – should be instructive in training students for later life. The advantage of a school is that the culture is controlled and administered. That being the case, a school should strive to make its culture represent the best possible society, one which values each individual and instills in students the aspiration to achieve the peak of their potential. 

The Strengths of North Idaho

Attending school is a pivotal phase of life that has the potential to enable tremendous positive personal growth. Students learn academic subjects and essential life skills, and our goal should be to make our schools the best at teaching them. Our schools should open doors for our students to bright futures and enrich their lives with inspiration, emphasizing all that is good. 

Right now, many schools across our nation are teaching children the opposite. They are teaching grievance, victimhood, and despair. That can only create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure as children are taught that their efforts are fruitless and their futures doomed. North Idaho must not only swim against that tide, we must move upstream. 

Our region is unique, characterized by a “can-do” attitude and a spirit of self-reliance, married to a generosity that is always ready to lend a helping hand during life’s inevitable trials. Our strength comes from unity, not division, and our schools should strive to nurture students’ characters to reflect the strength and values of North Idaho.

As a candidate for Coeur d’Alene School District Trustee, I am committed to working toward a school district in which every aspect of the school experience is focused on teaching the best to our students so that we can bring out their best. If we succeed in this endeavor, we can be confident about the well-being of our community long into the future. 

On November 7, 2023, vote for Jimmy McAndrew. Let’s work together and prepare our students to carry on a legacy of success for the community we call home.

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