On first thought, one might ask, why change anything when our educational system has made the USA #1. However, we are leaving children behind (not as preached by the former Bush White House, but in a marshmallow sort of way, still to come) and are sub-optimizing the process when the world, indeed, is catching up. It would be foolish to keep the status quo.
A simple solution is to add four more R’s:
Rigor. My sense is that something is missing today from the curriculum, or the teaching methodology. I haven’t been to school in a long time and I might be totally wrong, but, hate to say this, there is not enough suffering. You remember best when challenged with sacrifice. How to attain this level of rigor? I don’t know and am willing to discard this R if in any way pressed. Times have changed and, perhaps, the lack of rigor can be called progress.
Respect. A student from Laos in my first year of college teaching called me honorable professor. Well, he turned out to be the last one to do so, but walking across the campus (at Inha University) recently with a South Korean faculty member, one of his students smiled and called him honorable professor. In the U.S., and, perhaps, much of the developed world (remember: Finland was a definite exception), there is no respect for teaching and teachers. It is not that it is necessary for a teacher to be lord over his flock, but I keep hearing complaints that they are today more baby sitter, enforcement official or cowed servant than anything else. Again, this is the 21st millennium, and respect is earned, so the issue cuts in two directions.
Relevance. There are numerous papers on relevance for or of education. That is not the problem. Education is relevant. The teacher cannot make the student learn. The student learns best when something is relevant. It is internal motivation that creates the drive. How then to connect fundamentals to reality. The student learns best when the equation or graph or issue is important to her. With the advantage of current technology, there comes the need for someone to connect lesson to life. That is the role of the teacher. Harvard University in 1945 produced the Red Book standards and in 1978 established the Core Curriculum, changing education. In 2007, Harvard announced new guidelines for their general education curriculum, linking courses to problems, issues and questions students will encounter later in life. Or, in other words, introduce relevance. Students will now better think, then apply knowledge.
Relationship. This R is the most important one of all. Rigor can be eliminated, and mankind will not be lost. Respect might well be an anachronism. Relevance is in the eye of the beholder. Each teacher is smart enough to understand relevance, and there are innumerable ways to do this in a classroom and out. But relationship goes counter to current policy. Today, we focus on math and reading, give standardized tests and, at the end of the school year or semester, grades, which determine the future of a student. That’s okay, in fact, necessary. We, simply, must find a way to, in addition, produce a graduate who is more valuable to the community and more capable of succeeding in the real world.
What these R’s do is to level the playing field for those students who are not particularly gifted academically, but have other skills and talents equally important to success in life. These new R’s can lift the impulsive and unmotivated to a higher plateau, or, perhaps even, sway the potential lawbreaker towards good citizenship.