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The Essentials of Education: A Call for Dialog and Action



Society must reaffirm the value of a balanced education.

Leaders of several professional organizations reached this conclusion in 1978. They circulated a statement on the essentials of education among a number of professional associations whose governing boards endorsed the statement and urged that it be called to the immediate attention of the entire education community, of policymakers, and of the public at large.

The statement that follows embodies the collective concern of the endorsing associations. It expresses their call for a renewed commitment to a more complete and more fulfilling education for all.

The associations invite the support and participation of everyone interested in education.

The Essentials of Education

Public concern about basic knowledge and the basic skills in education is valid. Society should continually seek out, define, and then provide for every person those elements of education that are essential to a productive and meaningful life.

The basic elements of knowledge and skill are only a part of the essentials of education. In an era dominated by cries for going "back to the basics," for "minimal competencies," and for "survival skills," society should reject simplistic solutions and declare a commitment to the essentials of education.

A definition of the essentials of education should avoid three easy tendencies: to limit the essentials to "the three R's" in a society that is highly technological and complex; to define the essentials by what is tested at a time when tests are severely limited in what they can measure; and to reduce the essentials to a few "skills" when it is obvious that people use a combination of skills, knowledge, and feelings to come to terms with their world. By rejecting these simplistic tendencies, educators will avoid concentration on training in a few skills at the expense of preparing students for the changing world in which they must live.

Educators should resist pressures to concentrate solely upon easy-to-teach, easy-to-test bits of knowledge, and must go beyond short-term objectives of training for jobs or producing citizens who can perform routine tasks but cannot apply their knowledge or skills, cannot reason about their society, and cannot make informed judgments.

What are the essentials of education?

Educators agree that the overarching goal of education is to develop informed, thinking citizens capable of participating in both domestic and world affairs. The development of such citizens depends not only upon education for citizenship, but also upon other essentials of education shared by all subjects.

The interdependence of skills and content is the central concept of the essentials of education. Skills and abilities do not grow in isolation from content. In all subjects, students develop skills in using language and other symbol systems; they develop the ability to reason; they undergo experiences that lead to emotional and social maturity. Students master these skills and abilities through observing, listening, reading, talking, and writing about science, mathematics, history and the social sciences, the arts, and other aspects of our intellectual, social, and cultural heritage. As they learn about their world and its heritage they necessarily deepen their skills in language and reasoning and acquire the basis for emotional, aesthetic, and social growth. They also become aware of the world around them and develop an understanding and appreciation of the interdependence of the many facets of that world.

More specifically, the essentials of education include, among others, the ability to use language, to think, and to communicate effectively; to use mathematical knowledge and methods to solve problems; to reason logically; to use abstractions and symbols with power and ease; to apply and to understand scientific knowledge and methods; to make use of technology and to understand its limitations; to express oneself through the arts and to understand the artistic expressions of others; to understand other languages and cultures; to understand spatial relationships; to apply knowledge about health, nutrition, and physical activity; to acquire the capacity to meet unexpected challenges; to make informed value judgments; to recognize and to use one's full learning potential; and to prepare to go on learning for a lifetime.

Such a definition calls for a realization that all disciplines must join together and acknowledge their interdependence. Determining the essentials of education is a continuing process, far more demanding and significant than listing isolated skills assumed to be basic. Putting the essentials of education into practice requires instructional programs based on this new sense of interdependence.

Educators must also join with many segments of society to specify the essentials of education more fully. Among these segments are legislators, school boards, parents, students, workers' organizations, businesses, publishers, and other groups and individuals with an interest in education. All must now participate in a coordinated effort on behalf of society to confront this task. Everyone has a stake in the essentials of education.

Organizations for the Essentials of Education

  • American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
  • American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American Theater AssociationThe Arts, Education, and Americas, Inc.
  • Association of American Publishers, Inc.
  • Association for Educational Communications and Technology
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
  • Council for Basic Education
  • Home Economics Education Association
  • International Reading Association
  • Modern Language Association
  • Music Educators National Conference
  • National Art Education Association
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Business Education Association
  • National Committee for Citizens in Education
  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • National Council of Teachers of English
  • National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
  • National Education Association
  • National Science Teachers Association
  • Speech Communication Association

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.

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