September 06, 2007

#01-017: The Three Rs: The Old-Fashioned School Curriculum

A back-to-school sale in the U.S.

Note: Some kids love school and some kids don't. Let's hear two friends discussing their school days.

Get Ready: Do (or did) you love school? Why or why not? What was your favorite subject?

Joe and his friend Nellie are chatting.

Nellie: Hey, Joe, what was your favorite thing about school?

Joe: Vacation!

Nellie: Very funny. Which part of the day did you enjoy the most?

Joe: Uhhh... lunch?

Nellie: Cut it out! I mean, which of the three Rs did you like best?

Joe: Oh, that. Well, I liked the fourth R.

Nellie: The fourth R?

Joe: Yeah... Recess!

Nellie: I give up...

Joe is teasing Nellie. (I think.) She wants to know what his favorite subject was in school, and he keeps talking about things other than studies. ("Recess" is the children's free time on the playground.)

When Nellie mentions "the three Rs," she is using a humorous phrase which refers to the components of a basic education: Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rithmetic--that is, reading, writing, and arithmetic. (The apostrophes here indicate that letters have been left out.)

The three Rs are mentioned in a song written over a hundred years ago, in 1907. In it, two people (named Joe and Nellie, like the characters in our dialogue) are looking back on their childhood. The chorus of the song begins:

School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days.
Readin' and 'ritin' and 'rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of a hick'ry stick….

In this simple song, we see three aspects of traditional education: Morality, a basic Curriculum, and Discipline.

In the song, Joe and Nellie are fondly remembering the days when they were taught "The Golden Rule," which states: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In more modern language, you could say: "Treat others the way you want to be treated." This was the basis of a traditional moral education.

Then come the basics of the curriculum: reading, writing, and arithmetic, the "three Rs."

Finally, there is a reference to a type of discipline no longer used in schools. The teacher taught the subjects "to the tune of a hick'ry (hickory) stick." In the late 19th century, a teacher would typically strike a student on the open palm or the knuckles (and occasionally elsewhere) with a stick or ruler if the student misbehaved. The "tune of the hick'ry stick," then, is the sound of the stick striking the hand (ouch!). Thankfully, this practice has been discontinued.

Students, enjoy your school days!


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. apostrophes
  2. chorus
  3. curriculum
  4. discontinued
  5. hickory
  6. knuckles
  7. morality
  8. ouch
  9. palm
  10. teasing

  1. a hard kind of wood
  2. the rules of good and bad behavior
  3. finger joints
  4. small, single punctuation marks used above the line
  5. playing with; making fun of
  6. the plan of study in a school
  7. the inside part of the hand
  8. the repeated part of a song, after the verses
  9. a sound people make when they get hurt
  10. not done anymore

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 6, 2007

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. h; 3. f; 4. j; 5. a; 6. c; 7. b; 8. i; 9. g; 10. e