the Superintendent’s Seat
Dr. Carole G. Hankin with Randi T. Sachs
common education theme we are hearing is the question, “What about
getting back to basics?” Such concern stems from identification
of poor skills in communication and mathematics—the two areas
that are routinely put to state standardized testing. It’s not
the “basics” part of the question, but rather the “getting back”
part that we should reconsider.
If “getting back” to basics means returning to an emphasis on
the traditional three R’s, setting up classrooms with desks in
straight rows rather than groupings that encourage children to
work cooperatively, and having teachers conduct their lessons
as lectures rather than as interactive sessions, I believe it’s
time to acknowledge that the basics our children need must differ
in substance from the basics we were taught, and our parents before
Communication, that is, language, is the most basic subject of
all, the one that embraces every subject taught in school. Reading
and writing have always been the basic skills first taught to
our children, but it’s time to consider how these skills have
changed and what other skills our children need to master. Spelling
and reading are no longer being taught by rote memorization, but
with use of phonics and literature. Social studies is no longer
memorizing dates in history, but understanding world cultures
and events. It’s time to acknowledge that social skills are also
very important in communication. Children need to learn how to
deal with situations of conflict and of confrontation, and how
to make their own decisions.
Technology is here to stay. Computers are in the classroom and
they very much belong there. Children need to learn basic computer
skills. Along with reading and writing they need to learn keyboarding
skills. We just need to make sure that we don’t push them to give
up the pleasure of reading books in the process.
Relaxing with a good book is something we want to encourage our
children to do. Teachers can celebrate the fun of books by allowing
children to get comfortable with a favorite book, even if it means
relaxing the classroom seating arrangements for a while.
The use of computers as a word processing tool is another new
basic. It’s true that increased access to a word processor for
writing will lessen the time a student writes by hand, and thus,
practices his or her penmanship. But consider how word processing
frees the student to revise and improve the quality of what they
are writing. Rewriting a first, second, or third draft no longer
causes writer’s cramp, and the student is more likely to make
improvements to his or her work.
Our children are growing up in a global society. This means that
the ability to communicate with people from other countries is
getting more and more critical. The U.S. is far behind Europe
and Asia in the study of world languages. (Note, that we no longer
use the term “foreign language.”) In Syosset we begin the study
of world languages in kindergarten and first grade. A student
who attends one of our elementary schools from kindergarten through
fifth grade will have studied one year each of Mandarin Chinese,
French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin before they enter middle school.
This comparative study of languages gives them a strong fundamental
understanding of language and enhances their learning of English.
They also learn about many different cultures and traditions in
the world. This also must be considered a new “basic.” We have
to help our children understand one another.
In educating our children, we must concentrate on moving forward
rather than “getting back.” In order for our children to improve
their basic skills, their education must recognize that children
are active learners, who learn best by doing. We don’t need more
drilling of facts into our students. We need to teach them how
to learn to use their problem-solving skills, to embrace technology,
and to prepare to be active citizens of the world.#
Hankin is the Superintendant of the Syosset School District on
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of
the publisher. © 2001.