The basics?

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David Warlick was recently interviewed on a talk radio show. I won’t go into all the details since I can always just link to his account of the experience, but I do want to cover one question that was asked of him:

“Why should we be bringing technology into our classrooms, when our kids aren’t learning the basics?”

To anyone who is an advocate of technology in the classroom, this question should irritate immensely. As someone who is also an Art teacher, this irritation is an all too common experience.

We (and by “we,” I mean everyone – teachers, administrators, parents, students, the list goes on…) tend to value some aspects of education more than others. Administrators tend to focus on standardized tests, since their jobs often depend on those test scores. Teachers focus on their own subjects, since … well … they did spend four or more years in college devoting themselves to those areas. Students will focus on whatever they don’t find to be boring.

But most of all, society seems to focus on Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Science and Social Studies will often be thrown in as 2nd class citizens, but the so called “Three Rs” are what we usually think of when someone refers to the “basics.” This is no doubt an ego boost to the teachers who teach those subjects, while the rest of us feel inferior in comparison.

This should not be the case. The basics, after all, should be whatever students need to know to survive in the real world. I’m not saying that the “Three Rs” are unimportant – they’re more important now than they were 100 years ago. What I am saying is that there are other subjects that are equally important. Those who fail to know history are doomed to repeat it. Science is what keeps us from reverting to the fears and superstitions that ran rampant in the dark ages of Europe. Art helps us to develop our creativity – something needed in every well paying job. (And don’t forget about expression, communication, and abstract thinking skills.) Technology is so ingrained into our society that I can’t think of a profession that isn’t impacted by computers in some way, shape, or form.

And yet we still refer to only three subjects as “basic,” and then wonder why our children are falling behind.

It’s not just certain subjects that are basic. Our educational system is supposed to prepare our students for the real world. That preparation should be the true basic, to which every teacher should adhere.

Let’s stick to the basics.