The Real Three Rs

Everyone knows what we mean when we say “the 3Rs” referring to reading, writing and arithmetic.

But in their purest form the 3Rs were considered to be reading, reckoning and ‘wroughting’. This was the 3Rs in the eighteenth century and I think they need promoting again.

It’s easy to work out that reckoning is the term for mental arithmetic but what about ‘wroughting’. Well, this was the word used for ‘making’.

The value of making seems to have gone right out of fashion today as e-learning dominates but ‘wroughting’ is something we need to get children doing more of.

Although primary school children still get plenty of opportunities for physically creating things with their hands, can the same be said of their secondary elders?

In fact, let’s rewind. Some primary children get plenty of opportunities as this will depend on context. the school they are at and whether their teachers are committed to a creative curriculum or not.

In Regency times, wroughting was also a way of learning about culture and how to live a cultured life. I think it’s safe to say that when the Victorians started to dictate what children were to learn, the 3Rs took on a different perspective and wroughting was pretty much dropped.

Arts and crafts have had to earn their place and even though schools spout a good line in ‘learning by doing’, there isn’t much wroughting going on.

In fact, learning through physical activity and hands-on activities get pushed to the edge quite a lot of the time. Even if the more creative subjects kick up a song and dance to try and get heard, the ‘system’ throws a deaf one.

The new world order might appear to be have dispensed of the 3Rs but creating is at the heart of making things work.

Christopher Frayling argues that the standard of public debate about the role of the arts in the curriculum isn’t that high. He says,

I’d like to bring back wroughting. I think any rounded education should have all three – literacy, numeracy, making. And then, as Ruskin said, you have ‘the head, the heart and the hand, and thus you produce the complete person’.

The Centre for Real-World Learning has for many years taken a different approach and we must continue to bang the drum and keep repeating their engineering habits of mind. At it’s core is ‘making things that work and making things work better‘ (see Lucas, 2018).

If schools are to make creativity normal then there has to be room for play, experimentation, crafting and wroughting.

It’s time to upgrade the manual and the practical and re-work the curriculum into some old-school wrought iron.

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