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7.1: Is it still the "three Rs"?

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    Krista Olah

    Learning Objectives

    • recognize and understand the concepts of the original R's
    • grasp the basic concepts of writing
    • understand the differences between phonics and whole language
    • decide if a piece of work is plagiarized
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The three Rs (CC-BY-SA, Kolah001 Wikimedia)


    Back in the 1800's, Sir William Curtis an alderman later dubbed Lord Mayor of London made a toast to the Board of Education(Sir William) about "reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic"(American Heritage). It is unknown if he pronounced the words inaccurately on purpose due to illiteracy or if he was trying to be ironic. Either way, the phrase was found intriguing and used by others. However, there are more subjects in today's schools, more and different jobs that involve technology and other medias than there was in the 1800's, so it's smart to say that the 'Three R's' have changed or expanded from just reading, writing, and arithmetic. Because of this teaching has changed as a whole, instead of focusing on teaching the original 'Three R's' we are now teaching multiple subjects.

    Original Three R's

    When Sir William Curtis introduced the 'Three R's', it was from then on assumed that reading, writing, and arithmetic would be the basis of education. One had to master these three subjects before he, and sometimes she, could move on in life and be successful. From there he could go into a profession and learn other subjects such as science, history, literature, etc. In modern times we are taught first how to count, recite the alphabet and recognize it. Afterwards, we expand to applying this knowledge into reading literature, studying history, investigating science, and others. From there we choose different electives to study more in depth leading us to our chosen careers.

    Students should be able to absorb the 'Three R's' knowledge and use it. Basically being able to recite, recognize, and write letters' then form them into words. Finally, these words can become sentences, paragraphs, papers. Students also need to know how to count and calculate. From there they can solve mathematical problems that can help with medical, scientific, and technological breakthroughs. However there are certain rules and steps they need to follow in order to do these things properly.


    The ongoing debate on how to teach to read is whether to use phonics, pronouncing the word by each syllable, or whole language, emphasizing the use and recognition of words in everyday context (whole language). The debate is whether to stress technique and mastery, phonics, or meaning and context, whole language (Roy). There are three sides to this, those supporting phonics, those in favor of whole language, and some who believe that reading should involve both ideas. "Research evidence also shows that a balanced approach works better for children learning to read" (Early).


    Writing follows precise rules such as grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.

    Grammar includes:
    • Person, Place or Thing
    • Subject, verbs and their agreement
      • Fluffy and Babydoll are my pets.
    • Pronouns
      • I, You, He, She, It, We, They
    • Adjectives
      • Describe Nouns
        • "sweet apple"; "ugly color"
    • Adverbs
      • revise any word except for nouns and pronouns
      • answers how, when, where
        • "swam quickly"
    Punctuation includes:
    • Periods, Quotation Marks, Question Marks, Exclamation Points
    • Colons, Parenthesis
    • And many more

    Along with the writing rules, there is also a legal rule. Plagiarism, the use of one's words or ideas as your own without crediting them, in education betrays trust in the student and teacher, creates liars and dishonest people. Plagiarism is also theft, if caught you could face charges from failing the paper being arrested, having a record, and paying a fine. However, some may not realize that they are plagiarizing. Here are some tips on how to avoid it, always give credit when (Overview):

    • another person's ideas, opinions, or theories are used
    • facts, statistics, graphics, drawings, music, etc.,is used and did not come from the government
    • quoting
    • paraphrasing
    • giving a fact that is not common knowledge


    Math is important because we use it in everyday routines, such as(Importance):

    • Problem solving
    • Budgeting money
    • Time management
    • Calculating tips and tax
    • Memorizing phone numbers and locker combinations
    • Estimating distances or weight
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): A clock icon (BSD, Vadim Plessky, Wikimedia)

    Fourth R and Beyond

    In today's classrooms reading, writing, and arithmetic are still the basis for learning everyday subjects such as math, literature, history and science. However, knowledge in the classroom does not stop there but continues on into saving the environment, forming relationships, and expanding the creative side of your brain. If you were to go out into the world today and ask people what they thought the "Three R's' were you might be told multiple different things such as Relief, Recovery and Reform from the Great Depression; or Revenue, cost Reduction, and Regulations from a businessman (Three Rs). Although, these 'Three R's' do not relate to education another set does and that is reduce, recycle and reuse (Waste Hierarchy).

    Reduce, Recycle, Reuse

    It may not seem to be a part of education; however, teachers are always trying to teach their students to conserve and be a part of repairing the environment. Some schools, such as Southeastern Elementary in Chesapeake, Virginia, will have each grade level plant at least one tree every year. The students are being taught how to use scissors correctly and are praised when they waste as little paper as necessary. Teachers even come up with art ideas such as using old scraps of paper to form a collage.


    Teachers today want their students not only to be successful in technology and knowledge, but to be able to go out in the world and form a relationship with friends, family, boss, co-workers, future children, and future husband/wife.


    Music is a part of everyday life. People listen to it in their car, at home, in movies, while trying to relax, at concerts, and much more. Music is a stress reliever and helps increase energy. Music cannot be made without rhythm. As a fourth R, Rhythm can also be used to help memorize a poem, or make a story interesting like in the movie "Renaissance Man".


    Art, Fine Art, is important because it brings knowledge to your brain, senses, and emotions, basically educating your soul. Art teaches many things such as observing reality, making judgments,understanding the human conditions, expressing values, training the mind, and uniting reason and emotion(Fourth R).

    Some educators believe that one or more of the above should be added on to the 'Three R's'.

    To Answer the Question

    In my opinion, the basics of learning reside in the original "Three R's", however as time goes on we expand our knowledge. Since we are expanding our knowledge there are more lessons being taught. Some of these lessons have SOL's, Standards of Learning tests (state of Virginia)such as a being able to read the amount of liquid in a tube whereas others do not such as Recycle, Reduce and Reuse. Just like in the debate of phonic and whole language, it is the combination of all these things and more that make up education.

    Reference List

    Importance of Math Education. (2008, ). Retrieved September 21, 2008,


    Harris, Kevin, . Collected Quotes from Albert Einstein. (1995, ). Retrieved September 21, 2008,


    Learn to Read at Starfall. (2007). Retrieved September 28, 2008, from

    NIEHS Kids Page—Recycling. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from

    Overview: How to Recognize Plagiarism; Indiana University Bloomington School of Education. (2005, June 21). Retrieved September 21, 2008, f


    Roy, Kaustuv, . (2005). On Sense and Nonsense: Looking Beyond. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 39. Retrieved September 21, 2008,


    Sir William Curtis 17 (2008, January 19). Retrieved September 21, 2008, from

    Ammer, Christine.

    The Fourth "R" in Education: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Art. (1998, ). Retrieved September 21, 2008,


    (Ed.) (1997). Three R's. In The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms (Vol. Third, pp. 656). : Houghton Mifflin Reference Books. :Retrieved September 21, 2008,

    York, Alexandra.

    (Ed.)Three R's. In Wikipedia (Vol. , pp. )Retrieved September 21, 2008, from

    (Ed.)Waste Hierarchy. In Wikipedia (Vol. , pp. )Retrieved September 21, 2008, from

    whole language. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved October 5, 2008,

    from website: language

    Xue, Yange, . (2004). Early Literacy Instruction and Learning. American Educational Research Journal, 41. Retrieved September 21, 2008,