It was a typical day in my high school English classroom. The lesson involved grammatical errors I often see in student writing: comma splices, shifts in verb tense, incorrect word usage. You know, fun and essential stuff.
One student then asked me how I had learned about grammar. I explained that the public middle school I attended in New Jersey scheduled two English classes every day for all 7th and 8th graders: one called “Language Arts” and the other “English Grammar.”
“Where did you go to high school?” came the follow-up question.
“In Maryland,” I explained. “My father’s job transferred him back and forth between the two states when I was a kid.”
The student was astounded: “Oh, that’s horrible! Now you live in Connecticut. Those are like the three worst states in the country.”
Never mind the student readily admitted he’s lived only in Connecticut. He was convinced that New Jersey, Maryland, and Connecticut are just three awful states. Where do dewy-eyed teenagers get such ideas?
To be sure, many adult Nutmeggers believe Connecticut to be among the worst states in the country, if not scraping the absolute bottom. A quick survey of reader comments on this website, for instance, demonstrates an inordinate number of Connecticut haters.
While a gaggle of online commenters hardly qualifies as a representative sample of the general population, it’s not just CT News Junkie’s disenchanted readers who feel this way. A recent tweet posted by a Rhode Islander calling herself “Rowan” was not exactly a love letter to Connecticut either. The message — which generated 34,000 likes and 7,600 retweets — was simple but clear:
“STOP talking sh—about New England
Massachusetts is HISTORIC
Rhode Island is QUAINT
Vermont is CRUNCHY
Maine is RUGGED
New Hampshire is MAJESTIC”
Sure, it’s a typically snarky social-media meme. But I’m getting tired of the snark directed at Connecticut, quite frankly. Especially from the natives. If the state is that awful, just leave already. Or at least for comparison, do a little reconnaissance on some of the other 49 states before you dismiss Connecticut outright.
I’m no Pollyanna. I know Connecticut has problems, many of which our leaders ignore or exacerbate with head-scratching “solutions.” The new state budget, for example, includes “language that increases the sales tax [to 7.35%] on certain foods and drinks” in a seemingly arbitrary and potentially regressive fashion.
Still, much of the incessant criticism aimed at Connecticut amounts to nothing but a big whine.
Yes, the state’s budget — particularly the unfunded pensions — is a major challenge, but it’s moving in the right direction. This year’s budget, for example, is closing a $3.7 billion gap and heading for a $126.1 million surplus. In addition, the Rainy Day Fund is projected to increase by 12% of the 2020 general fund, the equivalent of $2.45 billion.
Most businesses, meanwhile, did not go bust, as many naysayers would have us believe. True, only 23% of Connecticut’s companies plan on adding workers this year, according to a recent Connecticut Business and Industry Association survey. But 70% of those businesses turned a profit last year, while 43% reported sales growth — “up from 36% in the previous year and the highest in five years.”
Public schools in Connecticut are another bright spot, continuing their strong national ranking. U.S. News & World Report placed the state’s pre-K through grade-12 schools at No. 5 nationally, while WalletHub assessed “performance, funding, safety, class size, and instructor credentials” to generate its No. 3 rating.
And then there’s Connecticut’s “quality of life.” Admittedly, it has slipped, dropping to No. 21, per U.S. News & World Report, or to No. 20, according to WalletHub. Still, the state remains near the upper-third, belying the “Connecticut-is-the-worst-state” hue and cry to which we’ve become accustomed.
Again, I’m not blind to Connecticut’s formidable challenges, especially those affecting children, including poverty and the education gap. But enough already with the overwrought disdain. Such negativity solves none of the state’s problems.
Unlike “Rowan” of Twitter fame, I am not at a loss for positive words to associate with our state. I immediately think of adjectives like “scenic,” “educated,” and “candid.” Indeed, our unfiltered candor can be a good thing, but only if we start using it for constructive suggestions rather than endless grumbling. Otherwise, we are only sowing the seeds of perpetual pessimism with Connecticut’s kids — like those in my high school English class.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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