The Three R’s: Reading, ‘Ritin, and ‘Rithmetic


Why do I need to know that? – as an educator, that’s a question I hear a lot. You know, like math, cursive writing, literature, history…

I don’t remember thinking those things. Of course, if I did Sister Loyola or Monsignor McShea would have quickly corrected such faulty thoughts! But that was then.

Stores didn’t close when the power went out; everyone knew how to DO the math, calculators were reserved for complicated math – not your basic arithmetic.

Papers, letters, and stories weren’t written on computers. They were carefully penned by eloquent hands on tangible paper. No one ever considered saving anything to the transitory clouds…

All the stories you knew and talked about weren’t on HBO…

As I watch disaster in Japan, I think about these things. Chaos and destruction reign. Rolling blackouts, even the most basic luxuries gone—destroyed by nature… I find myself wondering, who is it that would survive here? What if that was the United States?

Without electricity, knowing how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide are requirements for the economy. Requirements. So is knowing how to figure percentages. The cash register can’t do it without power – and in hard pressed areas batteries will become a luxury item, not wasted on calculators in grocery stores. But grocery stores are really the backbone of every economy. I remember a time, not so long ago, when the power went out, cashiers had to figure your tab out with a paper and pencil—added tax in and everything. Today those same stores close if the power goes out.

And literature? Reading used to be a family activity (before my time). Families would gather ‘round and listen to the best reader – and then talk about what they read. In families where reading isn’t important, what will they do to entertain themselves without electricity for five to eight hours a day? Reading comprehension is an important survival skill. Sure, sure, video games and cable TV provide a story LINE – but people create stories that live and force you to think, to feel, to react, to discuss into the darkness after sunset. Poetry reigned in literature for a long time because it was memorable, likened to music.

Cursive writing – Bah, you say! Not so much. Writing in cursive allows the brain to work more efficiently, to move faster through a process. It allows complete thoughts to happen on the page. And American school systems aren’t teaching it anymore.

But what if the United States was northern Japan? How would you buy food? Entertain yourself – and your family? Communicate without email or reliable phone service?

Skills that seem antiquated developed for a reason and if we look at history, it is the person who possessed those skills who survived and thrived through the chaos…

Think about it.

Word Count: 470

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3 thoughts on “The Three R’s: Reading, ‘Ritin, and ‘Rithmetic

  1. Luckily my middle daughter has very nice hand writing, we have her write anything that needs to look nice. My son CAN NOT write cursive! It bothers me. My wife takes pride in her bad handwriting. Why? I don’t know.
    Calculator, my parents got me my first calculator when I was a junior at WSH taking Chemistry. It was great +, -, /, * and a percent key!! Too bad Mr. Donovan would not let us use it. Several years ago I did a math problem multiply or divide, in my head. I said kiddingly, I’m in the last generation that can do math in my our head. Afterward, I have seen that this may be unfortunately true.

  2. Sadly, because I do very complex math daily, I have become somewhat calculator dependent, but when pushed I can still manage long division on paper. I can also figure out tips in restaurants. My husband can do math in his head, I tend to be militantly non-mathematical if it is not between 9am & 5pm. I write in cursive, as does my daughter, because it flows. And because let’s face it, Mr. Rathburn & Mr. Pithie would be horrified if I did not use the beautiful handwriting they encouraged (in ART class not English). Today’s blog is making me feel good actually. My kids are 16 & 14 and until very recently we read aloud every night before bed. It was a nice time to settle down for the night, we all like the same types of books, and then we wouldn’t fight over who got them first. Yes I am raising dorks. Even this week, C and I were squabbling over who got a new book in a series first, and she said “Mum, let’s go back to ye olde times, and read it aloud together, if we carve out an hour a night it will be fun.” Not that she doesn’t love her media, she’s decided she wants to write for TV, because as she says, “it only sucks because we let it.” I guess, it’s a nice feeling to know that because I’m a bit of a power dork, and have clung to some of the things I enjoyed as a young person, I’ve raised two kids (B can do math in his head, and can entertain himself outdoors with a light saber and friends for hours, a good snowstorm, and you won’t see him for days, there is war to be waged!) who might actually survive if the lights went out. Thanks for putting this out there today Mel, it gave me a lift.

    Oh and favorite story about math in your head. When C was in 2nd grade they were doing standardized math testing and had to show their work EVERY TIME. The question was “There are 4 cats in the back yard, how many paws are there? How do you know?” her response was, “16, because I’m not a moron”. When the teacher told her she MUST explain how she knew, C replied, “Well, I’m not certain actually, you haven’t given me enough information. Are all the cats healthy? Do I live near a nuclear plant? Is one of the cats eating a mouse? How much of the mouse has been consumed? There are too many possibilities here, if you want a detailed answer, you’ll have to give me a detailed question.” The teacher’s response was, “Never mind.”

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