Remember the 3 R’s in school? Reading ‘riting, and ‘rithmertic. They live forever in the mythology of education and what school was supposed to be about.

Today, there are still 3 R’s — but they’re not the same. The winds of reform have blown the historic 3 R’s out of the picture. Today, teachers and educators have a new 3R’S: regulation, rigidity, and rigor mortis.

Reform movements ignited the situation that teachers face today. In an effort to change – or reform – schools, the federal and state governments, along with the private sector, have proposed top-down regulations and metrics-based accountability that place educators in a straitjacket.

Some educators colluded, maybe unconsciously or deliberately through so-called ‘best practices’ and evaluation systems, to ensure that lessons and instruction follow a formulaic procedure. Teachers get gigged if they do not include the best practices rubric [another R!] in their lessons.

Technical expertise and instructional scripts rise to the surface and the teacher as creative artist falls into the abyss of instructional regulations and regimens. Stipulated procedures take priority. Evaluators walk through classrooms and evaluate teachers on whether they follow defined systems, processes, and practices. Relationships fall victim to metrics and ‘observables’. Teachers submerge their creativity to ensure keeping evaluators off their backs.

Regulations and mandated curriculum and student assessment, especially testing – place teachers in the box of covering content and teaching to the test, which in the long run pays tribute to lower-level thinking and swallows up valuable instructional time. As a result classrooms and schools become rigid as they adhere to mandates, regulations, protocols, and rubrics.

Covering material becomes the goal. Creative lessons are sacrificed because they take more time than computer worksheets or drill. Test-prep eats into classroom time. Technology, while offering promise, can be stultifying complete with avatars that are nothing more than traffic directors.

Imaginative and talented teachers become frustrated and either fall in line, become stymied, and capitulate with lockstep adherence to the stipulated recipe. Or else creative people get frustrated and leave, taking their talents elsewhere to satisfy their need for greater autonomy and pursuing their calling. In either case, it’s a silent blight on imagination and inspiration.

The death of creativity, initiative, and enterprise results in the silent calcification of rigor mortis and eventual death: arteries of thought stiffen, the joints of cooperation and innovation tighten, and the heart of passion and mission stops beating. What’s left is a bureaucratic maze of highly regulated and frustrated professionals and bored children.

Relationships and creativity are at the core of stimulating student learning. The intangibles of passion, excitement, and love of learning inspire and motivate teachers and students. If the teacher doesn’t write the lesson’s objective on the board, doesn’t mean that they are not good teachers or do not understand lesson design and instruction. Their lessons may just be deeper, inductive, and stimulating because of the mystery that needs to be solved through critical thought and reflection.

Schools are facing these new 3 R’s, the tenants of regulation and its arthritic rigidity stops creative teachers from entering the profession, causes others to leave, or exhausts those who remain. Following recipes, checking all the boxes, directions from above, and scientifically managing the complex relationship of teaching children, who come to school with varying family, emotional, cognitive, physical needs, cannot be met through regulated bureaucratic behavior and classrooms.

Reformers seem not to realize that values and standards guide professional behavior. Teaching requires ethical conduct and decision-making. It is not a technocratic act of simply following manuals and orders. They forget that the fruit of the relationship between teachers and students does not ripen until years later and not in measurable value-added increments.

Educating children is not an act of engineering. Teachers need the ability to focus on each child, develop trusting and caring relationships, and engage them in learning, exploring, and thinking about wonderfully complex and stimulating concepts and knowledge. Relationships built on passion and responsibility lead to respect that guides children through their lives to find meaning and purpose.