The Three R’s

My daughter is in third grade. One of her homework pages was a test of general knowledge: What are the names of the five Great Lakes? Which months have 30 days? What are the colors of the rainbow? (I’m not sure how she is supposed to know these things, but at least she knows that Google knows.)

She struggled with every one of these questions until she got to one that asked: “What are the three R’s?”

“That one is so easy,” she said. And she proceeded to write in her answer:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

That, in a nutshell, sums up how much things have changed since I was her age.


Completely agree with Alice (#58) on all points.

As a reader from a developing nation, Sri Lanka, I would like to point out that all our kids also learn the traditional Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic, together with the new ones, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

I would like to point out that there is one tiny earth for all of us to share.

And in this 21st century (in a world getting flatter by the day - Tom Friedman)while those in the developed world need to be careful and mindful of the new 3Rs, that does not mean we of the developing world should not teach our kids the principles of good global citizenship.

In my opinion, teaching reduce, reuse, recycle are as important as teaching kids to brush their teeth at least twice a day!


the 3 r's are very useful for us and we should save the world cause its OURS

olga lednichenko

things are changing over this side of the Atlantic too.. the 3 Rs for Americans - these days are spelled as :

Reduce, Republican Rhetoric..

.another variation is quite popular too

Remember. Republicans. Reuse.. [americans is implied ]


olga lednichenko


"Presumably she isn’t supposed to know; she’s supposed to find out, which is surely a much more useful skill."

I would be impressed if her school taught her to do that in some kind of useful way.

These are generally let's-make-sure-kids-don't-look-like-idiots-because-they-don't-know-factoids assignments.

They also show up in Elementary School curriculum somewhere along the line. At least in NC...


High School Junior

Old School

Perhaps I am older than I thought, but the original "3 R's" have 2 R's amongst them:




I deeply wish that Rhetoric was a part of any sub-college curriculum.


The common English mnemonic for the colours of the rainbow is: Richard of York gained battle in vain. Much easier to remember than roygbiv :O)


i'm a high school student with a few questions/comments about this thread.

firstly, wasn't the "three R's" thing just a colloquialism anyway? just because the term died out like, say, "going steady" or "fine and dandy" doesn't mean we don't learn to read, write, or do math in school. i promise.

secondly, rest assured that the "cult of environmentalism" is not interfering with the things we REALLY need to know (#42). we still take english, math, science, and history, just like you did. "being a hippie 101" is nowhere to be found on my schedule. perhaps it can't be helped that students who are taught to think logically about the world around them realize that environmentally friendly practices are good for all of us.


#38: ‘I guess this means I’m ignorant if I refuse to to “reduce my consumption”’…

With respect; you're ignorant because you think that "reduce" refers specifically to "consumption". So much so that you've even quoted it - even though it doesn't appear that way in the article above.

The phrase, "reduce, reuse, recycle" refers specifically to waste on all three counts. In theory, you could reduce your waste production without reducing your consumption - for example by purchasing items which aren't pre-packed - or by taking your own bags to the supermarket rather than taking new ones each time.

To be honest, I'm not convinced that teaching environmental best practice to children in developed nations could lead to an equivalent of "China’s cultural revolution".


Actually, over the last 7 years there has been a significant increase in the time devoted to teaching the three Rs, thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal law that requires schools to show improvement in math and reading. It's the time spent on other stuff--science, social studies, the arts, foreign language--that has declined as a result.


The third-grade general knowledge questions don't seem so far fetched to me. I actually remember learning the mnemonics to remember the months with 30 days and the colors of the rainbow in second grade. You folks live in Chicago which is right ON one of the Great Lakes: it seems pretty reasonable to expect kids to know basic geographic facts about where they live.

At any rate, I am glad she knows the Three R's :)

Nad Vega

Wow, that's what I call shocking news. Third grade, that is - what? Eight or nine years old? Children that age are not even *supposed* to know basic things like the colors of the rainbow or the number of days in each month? Are you serious?? What do they know, then, other than how to use Google? Makes me wonder whether it is natural that the girl knows how to write or she is just a super-talented one with advanced skills.


Rote memorization of random facts, as opposed to critical thinking? Have you considered changing your kids' school?


I remember learning both Reading, "riting" and "rithmatic" AND reducing, recycling, and reusing.

I was also in the Woody Woodpecker club that advocated recycling, reducing, and reusing. Ha!


my 4 yr old was telling me the other day the we should reuse and recycle, the funny thing is we've done it for a long time, but now he's in involved in it. change is coming from the new generations ever more early these days. I'm all for it!!!


@ #1 Tom

Yes! I thought I was the only one who remembered Ray Cycle. I remember parts of the song, too - "Re, re re recycle, re re re reuse it, no no do not trash it, no no don't abuse it" (that last "it" meaning the planet, I think).

Hmmm... if only I'd paid as much attention to some of my other subjects. That was going on 20 years ago. Scary which things stick with us.


#38: 'I guess this means I’m ignorant if I refuse to to “reduce my consumption”'….

No one is telling poor, rural Africans and Chinese to reduce their consumption. It is the consumer societies of the global North that are over-consuming. We need to reduce so that so that there are enough resources to go around.


I guess this means I'm ignorant if I refuse to to "reduce my consumption"....

Try telling that to poor rural Chinese or Africans. As long as guilty-feeling windbags control what our children are taught, we're headed toward our own version of China's cultural revolution. How did that work out?

I guess I just may have to be one of these "nuts" that teaches their children at home.


There's still a huge difference between knowing the 3 Rs and actually doing them...Our kids might be good at the first, I'm not sure they are doing the latter.


Mnemonics are the key to academic success.

For the rainbow, ROYGBIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).

For the Great Lakes, HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).

And for the months, use the knuckle trick. Start counting the months on the knuckles of either hand. Months that land on a knuckle have 31 days, those that land between knuckles have less than 31.


@14 I would have answered that a rainbow has all the colors of the color spectrum. Isn't this correct?

I always had trouble remember which mnemonics go with which question or fact.