The 3 Rs

My first on-stage performance was with my sister when we were in the third grade. We sang the old song “School Days.” I think it was an old song then, and may be archaic now.

The words were:
“School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days
Reading and -Riting and -Rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick.”

Education in the Elementary grades, which encompassed grades 1 – 8, used to be focused on those three things: Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. Commonly labeled as the Three Rs, referencing the beginning sounds of the words, not the spelling.

Success in these three disciplines was seen as foundational to all future education, and a strong indicator for success in adult work life.


Work opportunities changed over the years, and education changed, too.

Teachers began teaching things that family had been responsible for. Sports sponsored by the schools worked its way down into the primary grades.

The politicians grabbed onto the idea that introducing more content earlier would provide a better, more productive work force. Politicians, not teachers, became the ones that decided Curriculum.

It has now become mandatory that Kindergarteners know how to read, before the school term begins. Pre-schools sprang up. Parents passed the responsibility for teaching to them. Classrooms with 40 students assigned to one teacher are common. Survival becomes the focus, rather than learning.

Part of my introduction to more than one school where I was hired to teach included the caution to give grades of As and Bs so the parents wouldn’t complain to the administration. Plus, with those grades, no one would show up for parent-teacher conferences, because their kids were all “doing fine.”

Enough Education bashing

My 8-year-old grandson has been reading for years. He now reads at the 5th grade level. So, I’m not opposed to kids reading at an early age.

But, not all babies and toddlers have parents and grandparents who read to them. Sad, but true. Yet, many reading skills need to be instilled by age 3.

Reading is the key

Success in reading is the key to success in all other academics – perhaps even the key to success in life today. Notice the Today at the end of that sentence. I had more than one uncle who never read anything after leaving high school, yet they operated successful farms.

That was 60 years ago.

My son has chosen to go back to college to prepare for new employment. The class met for two hours the first morning, then they were sent home with several hours worth of reading to do. While he was fully employed, with certification and proven skills, he could see that it was taking him where he did not want to go.

People in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are being forced out of jobs that they thought would take them to retirement. Re-education for employment is the only recourse.

Learning from reading is a set of skills that lie at the foundation of today’s education.

What if you are weak in reading? Are you doomed to unemployment?

No. You can improve your reading skills without taking remedial reading classes.

Kick up your skills

History is replete with examples of men and women who became notable, but who started out with miserable reading skills, even no formal schooling. They improved by reading more.

It’s a solitary task, but reading more is key to reading better.

I don’t mean romance novels, or other entertainment-driven writing. Read history and science, biographies and poetry. Read literature that challenges your vocabulary and thinking.

Many books today are available as audio books. Even those that are not narrated by people can be read to you by computer voices through Kindle and other e-readers.

It is my experience that the audio of the text needs to accompany your eyes and mind looking at the words. There are times when listening to a book without seeing the text is okay. I used to spend more than an hour each direction commuting to and from work. I listened to books.

Reading will take you places and introduce ideas that will enhance your life in ways you can’t even imagine.

Success in Reading

I have had students brought to me in the junior high grades, unable to read at first grade level. Within a year of working carefully with audio accompanying print material, those students would be reading on grade level. You can understand how this enhanced their lives.

I have also worked with students coming into the American school system from a foreign country. Most had only a limited ability to read English. Yet, working with recordings of the textbooks, they became English proficient in one year.

This was before the days of technology that has robots reading. My wife and I created the recordings of the curriculum materials and provided them to the students.

Read. Use audio books when possible. Find a discussion group, a book club, some people with whom you can discuss what you are reading. Take a class at the local community college or high school that uses a discussion approach to teaching and learning. These are likely to be courses in the Humanities.

Read. Discuss. Learn. This three-part exercise will enhance your life.

For those of us who are excellent readers, my teacher-advice is the same… Read more. I know I need to follow my own advice in this. I still have two or three books in progress all the time. I read more when I was teaching.

Facility in reading will likely propel you to the connected R – wRiting. But, that’s a topic for another time.

Oh, by the way. My sister and I were awesome with our song.


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Thank you for reading.

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