Many of us grew up under the banner of the 3Rs, “Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic.” Underlying this quaint phrase sat the notion that school was about education, first and foremost. For many teachers and students education remains the highest priority, but increasingly it is being undermined by the imposition of the new 3Rs: “Revenue, Revenue and Revenue.”
One of this country’s greatest strengths has been its heritage of learning; reading has been considered an essential part of citizenship. A literate, informed electorate is essential to the proper workings of democracy, and those who founded America were products of the Age of Enlightenment. The principle of universal public education in America created a public school system that was the envy of the world, but that’s no longer the case. Public education in America has declined, while in Europe, Asia and elsewhere it has advanced.
Moreover, learning to gain knowledge rather than to gain a job is also in decline. Across the country, courses associated with the humanities are being dropped in favor of “practical” courses, this despite the uncertainty whether jobs prepared for today will exist tomorrow.
At the local level, budgets have dominated discussions for the past two years, raising questions about the importance of those 3Rs relative to school sports, AP classes, and the arts. In addition, Sonoma Valley has a large percentage of disadvantaged students, making the approach to teaching the 3Rs more complex than many of us may realize.
Funding for schools depends upon a complicated set of formulas and allocations from the federal government, state government and the local property tax base. Proposition 13 continues to hobble funding for education. Additionally, districts must make financial plans six months prior to learning how much money they will actually get from the state.
Even indirect factors like housing are part of the new 3 Rs. The district’s greatest problem is finding teachers; the high cost of housing makes it prohibitive for someone on a teacher’s salary to live in Sonoma. When pressure to make ends meet dominates the life of a teacher, it saps energy from teaching itself. The fact that teacher salaries are too low says a lot about our cultural and social values.
The old 3Rs were about learning how to think. Reading, writing and arithmetic remain essential to becoming educated and well-informed. Before keyboards, spell-check, and style-correction, reading comprehension, expressive and well-organized writing and the elegance and utility of mathematics required time and study to master. Perhaps money going for iPads in the classroom would be better spent to raise salaries. Call us old fashioned, but we believe computers are no substitute for quality teachers and the lifetime inspiration they can impart.
If we’re going to focus on revenue, let’s spend it where it counts most–making sure we can hire fine teachers.
— Sun Editorial Board