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READING, WRITING, AND ARITHMETIC

And Far Too Much More!

Posted by James H. Dearmore

Well, another school year is underway, and America's children all trundle off each morning for a day of Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rithmetic! Reading, writing, arithmetic, and a whole lot more. In fact, our children have so much more to contend with than reading, writing, and arithmetic that it's a wonder they learn even those skills. What's happened to our schools, our teachers, and our children?

America's earliest schools were established to teach the basic "3 R's". Families and churches bore the greatest burden of child rearing. But, in the 1900's, the dawn of America's "Industrial Age", the focus began to soften. Schools began to be seen as factories that could solve America's problems. The curriculum began to shift its focus to social engineering.

Slowly, at first, the role of public schools began to change, as society, through political maneuvering, began adding responsiblities above and beyond the basic curriculum. By 1920, we had added to our school's "curricular" chores such social issues as (1) nutrition, (2) immunizations, and (3) health.

Vocational education (4), the practical arts (5), physical education (6), and school lunch programs (7) were added by 1950. And the movement to make our schools responsible for repairing our society's ills was just getting started. During the 1950's, my generation, we asked our schools to teach (8) saftey, (9) driving, (10) more foregin languages, and (11) sex education gained a foothold from which it still ascends today.

During my high school years, in the 1960's, our schools were further burdened with the responsibility to guide America's youngsters through the academically treacherous waters of (12) consumer education, (13) career planning, (14) peace as a option to war, (15) leisure education, and (16) recreational education--all dizzying academic challenges for our already overloaded students!

But wait, it gets worse--much worse. The 1970's saw federally mandated special education (17), drug and alcohol education (18), (even) parent education (19), character education (20), and school breakfast programs (21). Schools now feed too many children too many daily meals--meals that we wished could be provided at home!

Let's look at the 1980's. No fewer than 12 "subjects" were added to our schedules: (22) keyboarding and computers, (23) global education, (24) ethinic education, (25) multicultural/ non-sexist education, (26) English as a second language and bi-lingual education, (27) early childhood education, (28) full-day kindergarten, (29) pre-school programs for at-risk children, (30) after-school programs for children of working parents, (31) stranger-danger education, (32) sexual abuse prevention, and (33) child abuse monitoring by all teachers.

Whew! But then there is more. Major programs added to the school day in the 1990's, so far, include (34) HIV/AIDS education, (35) death education, (36) gang education, (37) bus safety, and (38) bicycle safety education.

Of course, all of these programs are worthwhile. Many of these responsiblities that have been added to the school day are appropriate to the school setting. All of these extra responsibilies were borne of shifting (declining?) social values -- societal ills that could not have been foreseen by the founders of America'sschool systems. No one would suggest, seriously, that any of these programs be eliminated. So, what's the problem?

Here's the problem. Schools can't cure what ails American society. These are your children. Their education is your responsibilty. Schools can only help. Remember, reading, writing, and arithmetic are only three of the programs schools are required to provide for your children. By a modest estimate, there are 38 other programs on your child's class schedule. If teachers spent only 3 minutes a day on these 38 extra programs, that would take almost 2 hours away from teaching the basic "3 R's". It's a wonder they learn even those skills.

You want Johnny to learn to read? Read to him at home. You want Suzy to learn mathematics? Help her compute wall paper, carpeting, and paint requirements when you remodel your home. Tracy can't write? You and Tracy sit down, together, and write thank-you cards for gifts. And if you think you don't have the time, or that it's not your job, or the schools should be doing that, you're wrong--on all counts.

What's happened to our schools, our teachers, and our chlidren?

The increasing burden on America's public schools means you are more important than ever. Schools can't do it all, and they cannot raise America's children alone. (Carolyn Daniel, Assistant Principal, with Data taken from a speech by Dr. Jamie Vollmer, June 1997)