Bennett offers three Cs academic agenda

By THOMAS FERRARO  |  March 26, 1985
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WASHINGTON -- Education Secretary William Bennett today said America's schools, long guided by the three Rs -- reading, writing and arithmetic -- must now also attend to the three Cs, 'content, character and choice.'

In a speech prepared for delivery at the National Press Club, Bennett turned to the third letter of the alphabet to spell out his academic agenda for the next four years.

He said under the first two Cs, content and character, schools must teach more than the basics by covering the humanities, the nation's ideals and the meaning of such moral traits as 'honesty and respect for the law.'

Under the third C, choice, Bennett made a plug for embattled proposals by President Reagan that would better enable parents to send children to private schools.

One would provide tuition tax credits to parents of private school children. The other would permit states and localities to convert certain federal funds into tuition vouchers for parents of disadvantaged pupils.

Critics contend the measures would undermine public schools, but Bennett said:

'The freedom to have some modicum of choice must not be bound by economic bounds. All parents must have the ability to hold the system accountable so that they can fulfill their responsibility for their children's education.'

Bennett was sworn in as education secretary in January, succeeding Terrel Bell, who during Reagan's first term helped generate a sweeping campaign to upgrade schools that saw states and localities move to raise graduation standards and increase teacher salaries.

In his speech, Bennett said:

'Educators in America always have had three dependable, unfailing guides -- the three Rs -- reading, writing and arithmetic. They have always reminded us what our elementary and secondary students should learn.

'But the educational challenges we face today invite us to consider a new trilogy of ideas. ... The three Cs -- content, character and choice -- must now supplement the three Rs.'

The secretary said the government is prohibited from prescribing classroom curriculum but, 'I do want to enter the national discussion about the content of our students' education.

'Good teaching does more than teach skills. Surely one of our highest charges in teaching is to teach what we ourselves have loved,' he said, listing such great works as Jack London's 'The Call of the Wild,' Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island' and Mark Twain's 'Huckleberry Finn.'

Students should also know such things as 'how mountains are made and that for most actions there is an equal and opposite reaction. ... They should know where the Amazon flows and what the First Amendment means,' he said.

Turning from curriculum to character, Bennett said, 'We must teach thoughtfulness, fidelity, kindness, honesty, respect for the law, standards of right and wrong, diligence, fairness and self-discipline.'

Said Bennett, 'I am not talking about browbeating students into accepting points of view. That is simply indoctrination, which we all deplore. I am talking about intellectual honesty and ethical candor.'

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