Why the Three R’s are Obsolete and Should be Replaced by the Three C’s

types of learning styles article blog

Once upon a time.  (You can’t help but love my blog this week since we know that all great stories begin with “once upon a time.”)  Anyway, not to be repetitious, I will note that long long ago, people knew that to be really educated you must learn the three R’s.  The three R’s were a short cut for “Reading, Writing and Rithmetic.  Just to make things symmetrical or rhyming, they had to deliberately misspell or at least mis-pronounce arithmetic.  Doesn’t seem like a very erudite way to introduce an essential concept of education by misspelling a key concept.

Nevertheless, for over a two hundred years now, (The phrase appears to have been coined at the beginning of the 19th century.) these three concepts or methodologies have become the essential elements that EVERYONE knows schools must teach.  Politicians all over the land demand that schools in their states or in their districts will do everything they can to ensure that these concepts are taught.  Standardized tests are developed to make sure that students have proficiency in these concepts.  Students are drilled, drilled some more, tested, and tested some more.  And still in most public schools, a large majority of students cannot pass these tests.

School board meetings attended by irate parents ask why their kids are still failing the standardized tests meant to determine how assiduously they have learned their 3 R’s.  Politicians clamor for better teachers at lower pay and with more responsibilities but less power to enforce discipline or attention.  Classrooms are rife with students all of whom have cellphones that have more knowledge than the teachers standing up in front of their classes.  Teachers are blamed for teaching extraneous subjects like civility, manners, sex education, health education, racism, and holocaust history.  Back to basics scream the politicians.  Back to basics scream the irate parents.  Back to basics meaning reading, writing and rithmetic.

Ideas are bandied about to improve teachers. 

Pay them more?  “Nope, not enough money in the school budget.  Can’t afford any more taxes to pay for education.”

More stringent tests for teachers?  “Sounds like a good idea but where have all the teachers gone?”

Make it a felony to teach subjects that do not relate to the 3 R’s?    “Great idea, just as soon as we can find anyone willing to go into education, we will pass a law wherein we can convict errant teachers who dare to ignore the 3 R’s”

The irony of this entire effort is that the 3 R’s are obsolete.  They have been for a long time now.  Assuming that schools survive (see my articles are why schools are obsolete) they should replace the 3 R’s with what I call the 3 C’s.  The three R’s are obsolete in the sense that their focus is too narrow.  The 3 C’s would entail a broader focus that would allow students more latitude in what they learn while also teaching them concepts for the twenty-first century.  Of course, money must still be allocated for education and teachers must still be paid a decent salary or no one will be qualified to teach anything whether it starts with an R or a C.  However, please be patient while I explain the difference between the three C’s and the three R’s.

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Comprehension versus Reading:

The ability to read and understand text is a skill but narrowly focused on written materials.  The ability to comprehend meaning entails not only understanding the written word but also understanding such mediums as:

  • Music
  • Art
  • Lectures
  • Dance
  • Politics
  • Religion

Each of these mediums can convey a message that is just as powerful as the written word.  An educated person should be capable of divining the message carried by a great work of art or a great piece of music just as they would interpret a written story.  Politics and religion always carry messages and a citizen should be able to critically interpret the various messages and signals that are used by political and religious leaders.

Effective-Leadership-Connecting-vs.-Communicating

Communication versus Writing:

We write to communicate with others.  However, we also communicate with voice messages, podcasts, movies, videos, computers, spoken stories, sign and other languages.  Computer programming is a language that should be treated just as important as learning English.  Multiple languages need to be taught at an early age to all students.  Being bi or multilingual is a critical skill in todays global world.

The world of the 21st Century is for many young people, a visual world.  One filled with video games, YouTube channels, Podcasts and instant videos that are made on the fly.  Students need to learn the ins and outs of the various media that are available for communicating to the world and not just good penmanship or writing skills.

CT (1)

Computation versus Rithmetic:

I am sitting here on my computer.  I have an Amazon Echo about three feet away.  In front of me, I have my old calculator.  Years ago when I was student teaching (1975), I was chastised by the math teachers in the high school where I was doing my student practicum for allowing my students to use calculators for some computational problems.  I was warned that students would never learn how to do math problems if I let them use calculators.  Seven years later, the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) agreed that it was ok to allow students to use calculators in their classrooms.

Today, the battle still rages over the best ways to teach students math skills.  I need to know the square root of 3750, so I call out to Alexa “What is the square root of 3750?”  She answers me in less than five seconds: “The square root of 3750 is 61.2372.”  I reply, “Thank you.”  Alexa replies “Anytime.”

If I were to do this short easy problem, with a pen and pencil, there are good odds that I would make a mistake and come up with the wrong answer.  Even if I did not make a mistake, solving this simple problem would take me two to five minutes.  Regard the steps for solving the problem using long division.  There are six steps.

Step 1)

Set up 3750 in pairs of two digits from right to left and attach one set of 00 because we want one decimal:

37        50        00

Step 2)

Starting with the first set: the largest perfect square less than or equal to 37 is 36, and the square root of 36 is 6. Therefore, put 6 on top and 36 at the bottom like this:

6

37        50        00

36

Step 3)

Calculate 37 minus 36 and put the difference below. Then move down the next set of numbers.

6

37        50        00

36

1          50

Step 4)

Double the number in green on top: 6 × 2 = 12. Then, use 12 and the bottom number to make this problem:

12? × ? ≤ 150

The question marks are “blank” and the same “blank”. With trial and error, we found the largest number “blank” can be is 1. Replace the question marks in the problem with 1 to get:

121 × 1 = 121.

Now, enter 1 on top, and 121 at the bottom:

6          1

37        50        00

36

1          50

1          21

Step 5)

Calculate 150 minus 121 and put the difference below. Then move down the next set of numbers.

6          1

37        50        00

36

1          50

1          21

0          29        00

Step 6)

Double the number in green on top: 61 × 2 = 122. Then, use 122 and the bottom number to make this problem:

122? × ? ≤ 2900

The question marks are “blank” and the same “blank”. With trial and error, we found the largest number “blank” can be is 2. Now, enter 2 on top:

6          1          2

37        50        00

36

1          50

1          21

0          29        00

The answer is on top. The square root of 3750 with one digit decimal accuracy is 61.2.

Alexa solved the problem in less than 5 seconds and to four decimal places.  Why the hell would anyone want to use long-division to solve this problem lies well outside the limits of my intelligence to imagine? Perhaps they are masochists?  Crazy?  Do not have access to anything but a pencil and paper?

Computation is indeed one of the most important skills anyone can learn.  However, computation is defined as:

“Computation is any type of calculation that includes both arithmetical and non-arithmetical steps and which follows a well-defined model. Mechanical or electronic devices that perform computations are known as computers. An especially well-known discipline of the study of computation is computer science.” — Wikipedia

Everyone needs computation skills.  However, not everyone needs to use long-division to solve problems.  If your goal is to design a bridge, build a house, balance a budget, file your income taxes, you will need computation skills.  Sometimes, you will need to understand some mathematical concepts depending on your needs and priorities.  However, I get by with a calculator, computer and Alexa and seldom do my hands see either a pencil or paper.

Conclusions:

I have said many times that the model of schooling being used in the world today is obsolete, useless, and dysfunctional.  See my article:  Creating a 21st Century Education System.  The changes we need to have a valuable system of public education go well beyond simply substituting the 3 C’s for the 3 R’s.  I would do a grave injustice to the problem if I thought it were this simple.  Expanding and broadening the concepts being taught in schools today is only one small element that needs to be addressed to develop citizens who can use critical thinking skills to solve problems, perform useful societal tasks and select leaders who can make a positive contribution to society.

war-on-teachers

Today, we have a system of mass education being systemically destroyed by an elite that knows the system is dysfunctional but sees the solution as taking their kids to private academies.  The problems of most public schools are not as evident in these private institutions but the learning that goes on is no more useful than what is being taught in the public schools.  Still perhaps ten percent of students will benefit from the traditional model of education but that leaves 90 percent of our population who will be unfit to manage a democratic form of government.  In the USA today, we are not only witnessing the decline and fall of public education, but we are on the verge of destroying a democracy that relies on a free and impartial press, an educated citizenry, and a free and fair system of elections.  Take away any one of these three and you destroy democracy.  We seem to be working on destroying all three.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wayne Woodman
    Mar 06, 2022 @ 15:43:50

    Excellent article as always and I totally agree our education system needs revamping in many ways but I think our teachers here in Canada are well paid so that is not a problem here. But we do share some of the other failures and I fear we are not keeping up with some other countries.
    There appears to be a discrepancy between the email version and the web version in one sentence: Still perhaps ten percent of students will benefit from the traditional model of education but that leaves 90 percent of our pollution who will be unfit to manage a democratic form of government.

    Like

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Mar 06, 2022 @ 23:49:57

      Thanks Wayne. I meant population and changed it. Does that work now.? As always, I appreciate your comments and insights very much. Thank you for taking the time to comment and give me feedback?

      Like

      Reply

  2. Trackback: Why the Three R’s are Obsolete and Should be Replaced by the Three C’s — Aging Capriciously – Connection
  3. margiran
    Mar 06, 2022 @ 19:22:39

    A really interesting post which I’ve shared on my blog ‘Connection’ stating “ An important post by Dr John Persico Jr. about the essential direction of learning and education …. ”
    Hope this is ok – I’m relatively new to blogging and this is the first time I’ve reblogged a post 🙂
    My Granddaughter is a primary school teacher in Nottingham, UK so she will be interested too.

    Like

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Mar 06, 2022 @ 23:48:06

      Thank you for your kind comment Margiran. No problem. You can share or reblog anything I write without permission. John

      Like

      Reply

  4. Jane Fritz
    Mar 06, 2022 @ 19:51:19

    It really is tragic for US public education that it’s been so badly eroded by private schools of all stripes. A common solid education is how you develop a strong, creative, confident, productive citizenry, giving everyone the chance to reach their full potential. Sigh.

    Like

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Mar 06, 2022 @ 23:47:16

      Agree Jane, but this country is convinced that “free enterprise” can do everything better. John

      Like

      Reply

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