31 August 2007

The Three Rs c.1800-2007

The Three Rs – that self-defeating triumvirate of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic – have been read the last rites, ‘rit their last will and testament and faced their final reckoning following the news that standards in basic maths and English for seven-year-olds have shown no improvement while even fewer pupils reached the expected level in writing skills.

It is widely believed that the The Three Rs were fathered by Mayor of London Sir William Curtis whilst giving a speech on education(1) in the early 1800s. Despite making his fortune in the ships’ biscuit business he remained illiterate – believing that ‘reading’, ‘writing’ and ‘arithmetic’ all began with the letter ‘r’, and that ‘biscuit’ was spelt with a ‘z’ – although to be fair, he could calculate the annual diminution of his stock value due to weevils to six decimal places without the aid of an abacus.

Yet this slip of a poorly-educated, biscuit-and-weevil-coated tongue caught the public imagination and soon Victorians across the country were taking up Sir William’s battle cry and instilling the basic principles of education into workhouse orphans with the aid of the Three Arrgghs!: the ruler, the cane and the strap. Thankfully, the Victorians' successors - at least those of them who did not gain a disturbing amount of pleasure from beating the backsides of young boys - preferred a gentler path and soon generations of schoolchildren were being raised to believe in the importance of multiplication tables and understanding why the cat sat on the mat(2).

By the 1960s, however, where once children were encouraged to calculate that two plus two equals four, now children were encouraged to talk about how they felt about the number two and what kind of flower it would be. Similarly, however and nonetheless furthermore grammar went out the f**king window as children were encouraged to express themselves without the need of orthodox syntax or punctuation.

By the new millennium (which only one in seven people could actually spell correctly) things had reached a parlous state. Some children could barely read the terms and conditions of their own Asbos, one in four boys didn’t don’t ain’t got the basic writing skills and many children lacked a grasp of straightforward fractions – several believing that the difference between an eighth and a quarter is about twenty quid.

Though many expressed satisfaction at this week's revelation by the Department of Children, Schools and Families that 80% of seven-year-olds had reached Level 2 in writing, few were aware that Level 2 involves holding a pencil without stabbing the child next to you. And so the full impact of the damage done by a lack of investment in state education by successive governments woolly-sandalled acid-drenched lefties in the 1960s came home to roost. With the realisation that most primary school children now prefer the three Ts – telly, texting and TWOCing – The Three Rs were excluded from school for the last time.

The Three Rs will be buried at St Gates Church of the Predictive Spellchecker, the service will be conducted by the Poet Laureate, Pam Ayres, and the congregation will sing Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Txt”.

The Three Rs are survived by the Three Degrees, the Three Amigos and the Three-Month Suspension from School.

(1) a feat unmatched even by Cecil Parkinson.
(2) which was, of course, because the cat had failed to pass its eleven-plus and could therefore find no gainful employment.


Anonymous said...

As good as ever, Dodo ;-)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Love the "3 aarghs" and the "3 Ts" . And your conclusion, too. You never fail to cheer me up. Dodo!

Sir James Robison said...

Education has been taken over steadily, since the 70s, by the humanist left. This translates into learning grammar and spelling via reading. It has now been shown that throwing out rote drills and lists and the abandonment of grammar teaching, per se [which, incidentally, is still big in EFL or ESL]has been and always was going to be a big no-no.

Now we reap the whirlwind.