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Reimagining Education: The Three Rs of Education

Traditional molds of education view emotions as too warm and fuzzy to compete globally. Emerging science suggest otherwise, and the United Nations Academic Impact invited leading thinkers to make the case.

Sir William Curtis is credited as the originator of the “3Rs” in education: ‘riting, ‘reading, ‘rithmetic. These three core skills have proven critical to educating generations in hopes of building their capacity for continued growth and progress towards a better world.

On May 19 emerged three other Rs: Reflection, Resilience, and Responsibility.

For the first time on the floor of the United Nations Conference Room #4 was a gathering of educators, businessfolks, and nonprofits to talk about the role of emotions and emotional intelligence (EI) to support the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. At this gathering, speakers like Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman and British Member of Parliament Chris Ruane presented a case for EI in creating a cultural shift whereby individuals are compelled to look out for each other’s wellbeing rather than their report cards. Imagine a school where students are focused not only in academic growth and achievement, but also the wellbeing of themselves, their friends, and the world beyond them.

Research suggests the majority of employers don’t believe school prepares students for work (88%), majority of parents fear their children won’t get a job (66%), majority of teachers don’t believe schools prepare students to make a positive difference in society, and majority of students don’t feel prepared (64%). That’s a lot of majority opinions that “traditional” education is insufficient.

Words like grit and characters have been making their way more into the mainstream in certain parts of the world, particularly as the stress levels of college mania and frenzy of state-level testing continues to rise. While there have been tremendous growth in EI and SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) in schools, these programs cannot be standalone programs; but rather, embedded as much as the Algebra 2 or Biology are.

The current mold of education often views the likes of EI as lovely add-ons, but too warm and fuzzy to compete globally against the machines of “competitors.” Yet emerging science suggest otherwise. From Sri Lanka to Malaysia, studies suggest a correlation between emotional intelligence and academic achievement, not to mention future success. In other words, IQs and technical skills can take us only so far. And in a climate of increasing stress and overwhelm, we need more than the original 3Rs :

  1. Reflection

In the push towards “success” and “achievement,” young people are struggling to know who they are and who they want to become. In that rush, they aren’t given the permission to pause, which compromises their wellbeing and capacity for wise decision-making, both current and future.

In fact, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, created the Quiet Room, now known as the UN Meditation Room, way before meditation became “cool.” He stressed the importance of reflection to be able to access the cognitive capacities for wise decision-making. As he wrote to visitors of the room, “We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence. This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.”

In a world that celebrates noise and chatter, stillness allows for the reflection necessary for learning.

  • Resilience

Research by individuals such as Angela Lee Duckworth suggest that the capacity to bounce back from setbacks and to stick through tough times is an indicator of academic performance. As we know, life is full of joys and setbacks. While we all want to protect our children, overprotection can have unintended consequences. As iGen author and psychologist Jen Twenge noted, growing up in a digital world has left young people more vulnerable to threats to their mental wellbeing, but without having the tools to cope.

Resilience, the ability to bounce back from the vicissitudes of life, is critical to shaping the learners of today to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow.

  • Responsibility

Many young people still hold the idealism of wanting to “change the world.” Yet many are told to achieve first, get into the “best” college, and make money first. There is a responsibility on the behalf of educational institutions to do more than graduate Phi Beta Kappas. When educational institutions talk about preparing “leaders,” part of that actual training should also include the recognition of a purpose beyond oneself and the training to manage one’s internal “stuff” so that they can better manage the other “stuff” that the world throw at them.

As Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman said at the UN, “one must be able to go in deep inside to be able to give back to others…. There has to a purpose that resonates with the heart.”

Reading is critically important. So is Writing. So is Arithmetic. So is the capacity for Reflection, Resilience, and Responsibility. They do not and should not replace the original three Rs. They are essential to preparing the next generation. It is time to shake up the status quo of either-or. Our future depends on it.

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