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The Three “R’s”

February 3, 2010
Times Observer
BY JASON WILLIAMS, ENGLISH TEACHER, WASHINGTON MIDDLE SCHOOL

The famous “three R’s” of education: reading, writing, and arithmetic. For years I have had two problems with this staple of Americana catch phrases. First, and most importantly, why is there only one “R” word in the “three R’s”? Seriously, if someone was coming up with a slogan for education, shouldn’t spelling count? Secondly, and more to the point of this article, the basics are not nearly enough in today’s world. The days of names, dates, facts, and figures making up a student’s education are all but over entirely. Don’t get me wrong, these skills are still irreplaceable and very necessary; we don’t need to subtract from them, we need to add to them. According to Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, states that with the emergence of “thinking globally” approach to business, employers are looking for more than just book smarts; they are looking for people with real world reasoning skills, empathy, self-confidence, abstract thought, imagination, and a strong sense of pride in one’s work. Now, these skills are not learned out of textbooks. However, these are skills that can be acquired through an education that includes the integration of the fine arts: music, theatre, public speaking, art, creative writing, and anything else that fires up the right side of a student’s brain. The downside to this situation is that there is usually stigma attached to students, especially teenagers, who involve themselves with this batch of school activities. The word “geek” comes to mind. These kids are supposed to be the ones that cannot compete in sports; the ones who are on the lower rungs of the social ladder. However, a big problem that teenagers have is their die-hard focus on the present and their lack of foresight for their own success. As parents, you need to help them get past the stigma (which, quite honestly, is a false one) and get them to see how the fine arts, mixed with values of traditional education, is going to give them a leg up on the competition later in life. I had the opportunity to help out with a school musical shortly after I graduated from college. Among the cast members, three individuals stick out in my mind as people who illustrate this point perfectly. One of these talented teenagers graduated high school and immediately bought his own company (yes, even before college) and became a teenage CEO. The second followed a more traditional collegiate path; however, she never ceased to go above and beyond everything in which she got involved, which was a great deal. Upon completing her undergraduate work, she began working toward a career in the government and was so respected as a graduate student, federal agencies asked her to help conduct studies. She has recently landed a job with a federal agency – one that I am not legally permitted to talk about – yeah, one of those really cool ones! The last person followed the fine arts path all the way through a Masters degree from NYU for musical performance. What are her plans now? To get a teaching certificate to show the next generation of students the values that from which she has already greatly benefited. The world is changing and students from around the world are proving that anyone who works hard enough can be good with the “three R’s” – however, it is the extra mile that these special individuals go for that really gives them the much-needed edge over their competition. Plus, when all is said and done, it is not going to be the math tests or the English papers that stick in a persons memory of their teenage years – it’s going to be the standing ovations, the competition trophies, and the framed painting on their wall that they brought about from their own talents and hard work that are going to enrich their education experiences. The advantage they get on their resumes is just a really cool bonus.

Jason Williams is an 8th grade English Teacher at Washington Middle School. He is a life-long Chautauqua County resident along with his wife, Holly, and their son, Drew. He holds two degrees in education specializing in instructing adolescents. He is the owner and director of Lights of Broadway Productions and an avid supporter of Team DJ the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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