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Ben Michaelis, Ph.D. Headshot

Stop Failing Our Children With Three Rs -- Give Them the Three Cs!

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We -- as a country, as parents, as educators, as guardians of our children's future -- have a job to do.

Our job is to do good, do well, do right by our children and set them up for a life that is bigger, better, and brighter than ours. This is the same as the obligation that our parents had to us, our grandparents had to our parents, and so on. It is the same as it ever was. The job has not changed. The rules have.

No longer should we prepare our children for the future by cramming them full of the traditional three Rs: "reading, writing, and 'rithmetic," because, while not totally irrelevant, the three Rs are no longer the gateway to the future. Let's break it down:

Reading -- Yes, reading is still important. If it weren't, you wouldn't be able to appreciate brilliant, thought-provoking articles like this one. However, once you know the basics of reading and have made the transition from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn, the world is your toy store, so, read a few classics, declare victory, and move on.

Writing -- Okay, also still relevant, but not for everyone. Once students have learned how to convey your ideas on the paper, or iPad, those who are interested in the craft of writing should continue to develop it, everyone else should spend their time elsewhere. I have seen too many students -- current and former, who are brilliant people, but not the best writers, who end up feeling inferior because they couldn't master the nuance and metaphor of a virtuoso like Maureen Dowd.

'Rithmetic -- Again, basics are fine, but let's stop forcing students to do higher math who have little need to do so. After students know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, how about we teach them how to manage their -- or our -- finances? The fact that most of us have to learn about the harsh realities of credit card companies, mortgages, and finance so late in life hurts us far more than not being able to calculate the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle.

Why are these skills less relevant? Why has the game changed? One word: information. A generation ago (or more) education was about helping us to obtain and retain information. The assumption was that those with the fastest and deepest stores of knowledge could do "figure it out faster," and possibly "better" than those who couldn't.

The Internet, and more specifically, Google, has altered the world's relationship to information. Information is cheap, easy, and abundant. Anyone with a computer or a phone can access just about any information they need faster than you can finish this sentence. Stores of knowledge are no longer they key.

When we spend our precious education dollars and our children's time to drill and test them on information, we are setting them up to fail because we are preparing them for the world of yesterday instead of the world of tomorrow.

Culture is moving too rapidly to predict exactly what skills people will need a generation from now. Instead, we need to give them the tools to adapt to a future that we can't yet imagine -- and that's exactly the point. We can't imagine it, and we are handicapping our kids as a result. We need to change with the game, not hope that it changes back -- because it won't. Instead we need to instill our children with the three Cs: Creativity, Confidence and Character.

Creativity -- Now that information is everywhere, what matters more than the information itself is what we do with the information. How do we combine it, look at it, and consider it from a new angle? We are all naturally creative souls, but if we encourage our children to be creative and dream up new ideas with the information they have, we are preparing them for the unknowable twists and turns of life.

Confidence -- People who feel good about themselves are much more likely to take risks and try out new and creative ways of solving problems; those that don't, don't. The key to confidence is providing our children with an environment where they are not shamed for coming up with the wrong idea, but instead are celebrated for trying something new. We do not need to have an awards ceremony for every idea that doesn't work out, but we do need to praise our children for their creative efforts and encourage them to keep imagining.

Character -- Because the only thing that we know about the future is that it is unknown, we need to instill a strong sense of character in our children so they make good choices to be kind, honest, respectful and compassionate to others. Kindness is all about character. One of the difficulties of instilling confidence in our children in a highly results-based society is that we praise, honor, and revere those who succeed quickly regardless of how they got their results. In doing so, we encourage people to take the quick and easy paths to success that too many people, try to do: cheating, stealing, and manipulating those around them so that they seem like "winners" by comparison. Unfortunately, this tendency has led to many leaders across industries who are long on results but short on character. This needs to be changed, and changed fast so that our kids see examples of people who achieve because they are paragons of virtue, not masters of image-making.

As we start a new school year, I ask that all of us: educators, parents, and responsible citizens think about the three Cs when we come into contact with young, impressionable minds who will be leading the world before we know it.

Best wishes for a great school year!