Reading and wRiting and aRithmetic help us to make our way through the world. Take, for example, the simple act of grocery shopping. Knowing the Three Rs would allow a person to WRITE a grocery list, to READ the ingredients list on food packaging, and to use ARITHMETIC to comparison shop for the best prices. The Three Rs are absolutely important to our functioning as a society; if we don't teach these things to children, I have to believe that the future looks pretty bleak.
I'm sure there was a time in the history of western society when learning the Three Rs was an adequate education. Of course at that time there were no televisions or computers, there was no air conditioning, there were no automatic weapons in the hands of normal citizens, and junk food laden with corn syrup and hydrogenated oils were much less prevalent. All of these things conspire to keep children inside and imaginatively stunted.
There was a time (when Three Rs education was adequate) that children's entertainment involved running around the neighborhoods or the fields and pastures. There was a time (before music became professionalized) that people would play music together in the living room or on the front porch.
I believe the schools were wise, as our home lives moved more and more predictably inside, to make sure that music and art and physical movement were part of the curriculum. We as a society saw the value in educating the whole person, instead of just the Three-Rs-basics of the intellect. At one time, the Three Rs were enough, because we received the rest from the rest of our lives.
These days, though, we seem to be making the mistake of assuming that if the Three Rs were enough then, they're enough now as well. We make the mistake of ignoring the changes that have taken place in our world. We make the mistake of removing art and music and physical education from our schools to balance the budget.
We make these mistakes because we make the mistake of not wanting to pay taxes because we believe that having money in today's bank account is better than investing that money in our children and the future of our society.
Now, we could climb up onto our high-horse-pedestal and say schools shouldn't need to teach art and music and physical education because families ought to be making their kids get outside, that families ought to be exposing their children to music, that families ought to be turning off the television and the computer. We could say that ~ but we also must recognize that as much as we might say it, it isn't going to happen.
So we have a choice, as a society. We could say that the Three Rs are enough, and that we're willing to surrender our children to the trappings of poor health, cultural ignorance, and the power of advertisement, thereby allowing our children to become little more than passive beings with atrophied muscles and atrophied minds. In this case, we can continue to pay teachers barely a living wage, seeing them as unskilled laborers and treating them worse (as if the degrees they've earned and the hours they spend dedicated to teaching our children are meaningless and insignificant).
Or we could choose to raise taxes and fund schools the way they should be funded, paying teachers the professional salary they deserve as professionals.
Because I dream of a more just and compassionate and beautiful society for the future, I choose the latter.