The 4th “R” of Education

Reading, writing, and arithmetic. The 3 R’s of education are rooted in the very fabric of all schools everywhere. It’s just what we do.

There’s a 4th R and it’s so important that without it, all else crumbles. But we can’t measure it on a state test. It won’t be on many report cards. There’s no real curriculum to handle its complexity. And some schools don’t even teach it or recognize its central value to educating young people.

The 4th R is for “relationships” and if you don’t think it’s important, just think about why everything else in the student’s learning falls apart.

Let me illustrate how complex and critical relationships are by listing the essential ones that influence even a single day of a student’s existence in a school. Some of these relationships are direct, but most happen apart from the student and yet still have a tremendous impact on how a child navigates education and growing up. Take a look:

 Student to family

Student to teacher

Student to student

Student to self

Student to community

Teacher to teacher

Teacher to administrator

Teacher to profession

Administrator to administrator

Administration to “the state”

School to the community

School to the “the state”

Honestly, that’s just a SHORT list! Think about how many more relationships can impact a student’s academic success, peace of mind, health, and capacity to learn. It’s staggering. Look through the list above, make any one or two of those relationships toxic and think of the impact that can have on a child. The reality is that the traditional 3 R’s balance on the needle’s point of the 4th R.

While I believe that all schools are cognizant of this in some regard, I know some schools work harder at the 4th R than others. There are (tragically) some schools who marginalize it with comments such as, “We know it’s important but we just don’t have time” or “We’d like to work on it more, but with state testing, we need to stay focused.”

Intellectually, I suppose those comments aren’t entirely incorrect. But the reality is that NO school can afford to marginalize this work. ALL students need the 4th R. ALL schools need to have their own 4th R houses in order. The risks of foregoing intentional efforts to build, sustain, and protect relationship capacities are just too great.

At IAL, we try every day to honor the role of the 4th R. This year we’re trying to increase one fantastically important relationship: that between the school and families. Families – we need you as much as you need us. Your children need us to be working well together because when we are, they benefit. They benefit to a degree that almost surpasses anything else we do.

We’re not sure it would make much of a bumper sticker or t-shirt, but we believe that “Inwood Academy: A Place that Honors the 4th R” would reflect a pillar of why we open our doors every morning. It’s messy, hard work. But we’re raising these kids together and there’s nothing else we’d rather be doing.

By Nathan Eklund, nathan.eklund@inwoodacademy.org | @nateek

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