Thursday, July 1, 2010

What is the Real World?

RealWorld In This World, That World and Some Other World from Education On The Plate, Deven Black states,

“I don’t like the term ‘real world.’

It is often used in sentences like ‘Every lesson in school should relate to the real world.’

Formulations like that make me think schools are like the Floating World of ancient Japan or the artificial world of the holodeck on some Star Trek spaceship.

Schools are the real world, just as much as slums or split-level suburban homes are.”

As soon as I saw this, I knew, as my husband hears frequently, I feel a blog post coming! I use the term “real world” a lot because I think it distinguishes it from a different time in people’s lives when they are sheltered and protected. I feel the real world makes people vulnerable and I need to prepare my students so that they can enter situations supplied with whatever tools and strategies necessary to keep them safe and independent.

I do not feel like a school situation is the “real world.” Parents, Teachers, and Administrators are able to manipulate the environment in different ways to help a student and this is not possible in the real world. I have worked hard at the beginning of the year to help my students succeed in different situations so they can use their confidence in trying more difficult assignments. There are also laws that protect children in schools that help them get accommodations and modifications to instruction if needed (IDEA and 504, for example). Administrators may use different discipline techniques to help students learn social skills necessary to get along with others. Special Education students are protected under special ed laws that enable them to continue with their education even if they are removed from a regular school environment.

It kind of reminds me of times I have seen football teams practice or play scrimmages and how they differ from real games. The real games are the ones that count. They count towards statistics, records, and championships but practice games and scrimmages do not. Practice games and scrimmages are a way to practice plays or move players to different positions and try them out. This is the time to explore different possibilities without it actually hurting statistics or records.

When a student causes minor problems in school, there are repercussions and this teaches a student how to be accountable for his actions. When a person gets in the “real world,” this student is usually of legal age and being accountable for his actions may involve money or even jail time. This does not usually happen at school age unless the student has broken a major law. I have seen students show violence in schools that will not be tolerated in the real world. Law enforcement will not care if this student has a disability or comes from a bad home life when protecting other citizens.

In school, if you misbehave, they send you to the office and pay the penalty, and then return to class. Unless you are expelled (and schools must have a good reason), you return to class. In the workplace (the real world), employers don’t tolerate people who won’t do their job. Employers want someone who will show up for work regularly, get the job done, as well as get along with other workers. There are too many people who need a job and want that position if you don’t follow the employer’s policies. If you can’t do the job for some reason, they can fire you.

In school, the system makes sure that students get fed. There are free and reduced lunch programs to feed children. If a student does not have lunch or money continuously, someone is notified about this problem (social worker, DSS etc.) In the real world, many people go to work hungry and go home hungry. Many people work so that they can pay bills and buy food.

Even when I went to college and lived on campus, I do not consider that the real world. I paid tuition and room and board as well as books but those were my major expenses. Many other students had their education paid for by their parents. When I graduated and got my first apartment, I never realized how much money was needed for deposits as well as electric, water, and phone bills. No one prepared me for these real world situation.

So, I guess I really don’t feel that school is the real world. And yes, I do feel that my lessons should be related to the real world so I can prepare my students for things that they may face. I might not be able to cover all of the situations they may face, but I hope that I give them enough tools and information so they can go find the answers they need.

What do you think? Is school the real world or not?

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

Original image: 'Summer Storm over Kuala Lumpur' by: Trey Ratcliff


Deven Black said...

We apparently look at the same thing and see two different things. You see clear distinctions between school and life, between scrimmages and the actual contests and I do not.

What I see, instead, is a holistic existence in which the scrimmage is part of the game performance in that one will not perform well in the game unless one practices what one is supposed to do.

A student's life is also holistic. There is no clear distinction between school and life; school is part of the whole fabric of the student's life. School is social, emotional, educational and demanding just like every other aspect of a child's life.

Your contention that school is an artificial manipulated environment, while true, also falls flat when one recognizes that almost all aspects of our lives take place in artificial manipulated environments. Among them are cities, suburbs, shopping malls, movie theaters, parks, playgrounds, cars and restaurants. None are natural, all are constructed to manipulate behavior.

Seeing school as separate from life, or worse, as preparation for life, is dangerous because it causes us to look at behavior problems, test failures and the like as the student's problem instead of an environmental problem. It allows us to pretend that the "real life" students have outside school walls is somehow left behind when the student comes into the classroom.

While we cannot mediate the events of a student's life outside of school, their access to food, the quality of the parenting they receive, the amount and type of sensory stimulation available, their exposure to violence or abuse, etc., failure to recognize those circumstances or choosing to ignore them in dealing with the child is educationally and socially ineffective and, in many cases, dangerous to the child or the teacher.

Think about your most successful students and you will see that they are the children who can integrate the different processes and loci of learning into the weave of their lives instead of drawing a heavy black line between school and other aspects of their existence.

It is my aim to help school change to be able to be part of that holistic fabric for all people, child and adult.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I do agree with Deven in many areas; however, I don't think many adults offer enough guidance for children to help them survive in the "real world" whether that means school, the mall, college or holding a job. Kids are way too sheltered from everyday aspects of living like paying for groceries, earning money, balancing bills and taking responsibilities for the actions.

Duez said...

Anytime I have been a student in a class where the teacher has said, "Well in the real world...." it seems to demean what that person is creating in the classroom. It's as if what is happening in the classroom is not as relevant and "just wait" - seems a hollow threat to me.

I see your argument and I understand it. But, in my opinion life is life and we should be treating students as if the work we are doing with them is vital and important and not just preparatory. If the learning does not occur here and now, it's doubtful to continue in that big, bad "real world" people dream up - out there. :)

luckeyfrog said...

I think for me the issue is in nomenclature. By referring to "the real world" as something that's not school, you're invalidating how students spend most of their time and, honestly, not making their school performance sound like it should be a priority. If you act like the scrimmage is meaningless, no one will be motivated to play their hearts out.

I do think it's important to show students how their knowledge can be used outside of school, though. Sometimes I think kids believe that we just want them to learn things for a test, or "to do well in school." I do my best to explain how they'll need it in later years or how I still use that skill as an adult. I think it's a good way to make their learning relevant because they know they're not just being asked to memorize it for some arbitrary reason, but that they will actually use it.