By The Way

A case for “More of the Basics, Better Taught.”

In the previous issue of Christian Courier, fellow columnist Lloyd Rang wrote a piece entitled “Why ‘Back to the Basics’ is a Really Bad Idea” (Dec. 10, 2018). If I understood him correctly, his main argument is that that it’s foolish to provide our children with an education based on nostalgia for a by-gone era, before the advent of computers, artificial intelligence (AI) and other so-called smart technologies. He stated that, “if you learn a skill today, that skill is out of date within three years” and “basic math, or science, or language skills aren’t what we need” in the world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

I beg to differ. I agree that basing an education on pouring soon to be outdated facts into kids’ heads is foolish. I also agree with Rang that “what we need are learners and thinkers.” But what are the primary tools with which we learn and think? They are first and foremost language skills and, secondly, foundational numerical understandings and proficiencies upon which, by the way, all computer coding and AI skill development depend. Rang made his argument in writing, which is a secondary language skill that turns his thinking into a visible code based on his primary language skill of speaking. I can respond to him in this column because I know the same code and was able to read his column with linguistic understanding. When I receive my $50 for this column and add that amount to the balance in my cheque book in order to calculate a new total, I am using a simple but foundational arithmetical skill. 


Thinking and learning are not independent cognitive entities; they depend on the acquisition and use of which, in the old days, were called the basics of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic (the 3Rs). I am grateful that I and my children were schooled to acquire and refine the use of these tools for learning and thinking. I hope my pre-school grandchildren will also be helped to develop and extend these real linguistic and numerical intelligences, before encountering artificial ones. I doubt that the former will be obsolete in three years. 

While they’re learning the 3Rs, I also hope the school will provide them with at least a foundational introduction to many other basic human potentialities and skills including: musical, aesthetic, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, theistic and naturalistic. I’m sure readers of this column can map school subjects onto these intelligences with which the Lord has gifted all of us in varying degrees. And, yes, these skills and competencies need not be acquired and practiced while sitting in “long rows of desks with kids looking at blackboards,” but neither should they require endless hours of looking at flashing computer screens with binary digits rolling endlessly by “creating” artificial intelligence. The adjective “artificial” coupled with the word “intelligence” is enough to scare the living daylights out of me. So, perhaps instead of “Back to the Basics,” let’s have “More of the Basics, Better Taught.”  


  • Bob Bruinsma

    Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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