3Rs – Reuse R Repeatedly

March 26, 2008

Singing sea lion - source BBC

Say “R R R” and you sound like a barking sea lion!

Once the expression the 3 Rs just stood for “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic”. A catchy little slogan to capture the three important things to learn at school, the 3Rs have long caused either confusion or the opportunity for kids to laugh iRonically at ‘rents’ and teachers’ rules.

Not anymore. Educators take liberties with them, including upgrades to the 4 Rs. Business people have found uses for them too. And there are a few others just to make sure the letter doesn’t feel rejected, not last of which is the eco-friendly slogan.

A diversionary story of changing times, reflected in one letter…

People really do ask, What are ‘the three Rs’? (EduQnA), although they seem to miss the oddness of worrying about educational standards whilst being unable to spell themselves. (Read it, you’ll see!) The obvious, traditional, “life skills” answers were sometimes used to limit aspirations, and sometimes to set the basics to aspire beyond.

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic English, like wot it’s supposed to be wrote. An ‘and’ (or an’) before the last one is optional.
Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic Try to explain alliteration while speaking.
Readin’, ‘Ritin’, ‘Rithmetic Makin’ inglish simple.
Readin’, Rightin’, ‘Rithmetic Yes, really! More in American than UK sources, it seems.

But there’s a world beyond the obvious.

The 3Rs make it into interstate humor apparently told by Montanans about North Dakotans: “In North Dakota schools, the 3Rs are reading, writing and the road to Billings.” It wouldn’t be surprising if this was told in other forms elsewhere, perhaps more surprising if it isn’t.

Remind, Redirect, Recap (.doc) as part of classroom management or Role Model, Reinforce and Redirect in counselling, behaviour management or as training technique.

California 3 Rs Project – Rights, Responsibility and Respect – “A program for finding common ground on issues related to religious liberty and the First Amendment in public schools”.

The Other 3 Rs: Reasoning, Resilience and Responsibility Project, American Psychological Association. “Experts have identified reasoning, resilience and responsibility as key problem solving skills that, when learned, can benefit student achievement and general life success strategies. The prevailing view among scientists is that teachers can teach these skills and students can learn them.” (Project Goals)

Along with Teaching the Three R’s, a Montessori teacher recommends teaching three leadership abilities: Respect, Responsibility and Resourcefulness.

Two films: Readin’, ‘Ritin’ an’ ‘Rithmetic (1912), a comedy short, and Readin’, ‘Ritin’, ‘Rithmetic (1926), a college melodrama about the “college athlete who must prove the hard way that he is good enough to marry the professor’s daughter”.

The Reading, Ranting & Recipes blog, which gives you exactly one carefully measured piece of each. Or the book review blog, 3Rs BookReviews, no sign of ‘rithmetic there, it’s the “Real Reader Review”.

For football (soccer) fans, there’s Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho (from EduQnA), three very highly respected players from Brazil – and there’s a fourth R from there too!: Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.

And a couple, also in EduQnA, feature revolvers – for the American gun lobby or disaffected youth in equal measure.

But just one website manages to offer some sort of solution to the original basic skills issue: Links to Sites for Readin’, ‘Ritin’, ‘Rithmetic, etc.


Ramping up the educational revs to 4Rs there’s…Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, Religion (Daniel Dennett), on YouTube.The Fourth “R” in Education – Reading, WRiting, ARithmetic and ARt, Alexandra York’s impassioned plea to ensure Art is taught in school.

Little Kids Rock: Ready For The Four Rs? Readin’, Ritin’, Rithmetic, Rock! about the Little Kids Rock music programme.

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Ritalin is an education commentary that slides across topics – terrorism, violent video games, death education classes, drug (ab)use, child suicide, anti-depressants, and finally Ritalin. There may be truths in what Betty Freauf writes for News With Views, but there’s a lack of evidence from this “researcher specializing in education”, and some of what she does use is 23 years old. My choice of phrase for the most irony is, “We don’t literally cut off heads in America today …”, missing as it does what they do use in (some of) the States. Instead it might have been titled “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and ex-Republicans”.

Actually, guns in schools isn’t a joke, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic… and Lockdowns, Paul Helmke, October 2007.

And somewhere along the way, there is something worth readingFour Rs: Basic Training for Success – readin’, ’ritin’, ’rithmetic, and rhetoric for program managers of any kind – by Wayne Turk in Defense AT&L: September-October 2006.

The phrase appears in a 1920s children’s song – although it must be much older than this; listen to “School Days, School Days:

School days, school days
Dear old golden rule days
Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick


Not just for Education, Business also has its uses for the 3Rs…Lessons from Accenture’s 3Rs: rebranding, restructuring and repositioning about Andersen Consulting’s rapid change into Accenture after the messy break with Arthur Andersen (accounting) in 2000, in Journal of Product & Brand Management (Volume 12, Number 7, 2003, pp. 477-490).

Aberdeen Schools 3Rs Project (PPP/PFI) – “Reorganise, Renovate, Rebuild” , the 3Rs Project is the first step in the regeneration of Aberdeen City Council’s schools estate (2007, Scotland). (Oops, it just sounded more like Business than Education.)


Sea lion trapped in fishing net - source Royal Melbourne ZooBut the Rs are moving on, and the phrase of the moment is Reuse, Recycle, Reduce, moving towards 2,000,000 Google hits.Perhaps this will help fewer sea lions getting caught in discarded fishing line.

A little responsibility would probably help too!

Image sources: (1) South American female sea lion Chappie performs at Shinagawa Aquarium in Tokyo, Japan BBC; (2) Discarded fishing net around the neck of an Australian Fur Seal, Royal Melbourne Zoo, found on Diving Through Debris, Voyage of the Odyssey.

Not sure how I finished with a point I wasn’t looking for… all down to imagining “R R R”. Rest & Relaxation (R&R) might have been an easier route.

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One Response to “3Rs – Reuse R Repeatedly”

  1. scitzo Says:

    i liked the post
    however sea lions were made for are amusment
    just joking did you hear about that sea lion i n the states the can grunt the national anthem


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