‘The Real World’ And Other Lies We Tell Our Kids

There is something about the weather that is bugging me. It is neither the six feet of snow we received in February nor global reports of wonky weather, although it is more closely linked to the latter. What has been bothering me is the separation between weather and climate and how people keep going out of their way to say that the weather and climate are different. I could literally go down this rabbit hole for the length of this piece, which is not the point in a blog about education. My intention is to make an analogy between how we talk about things, and how we create and maintain these false separations to the point where we either believe the separations exist, act like the separations are how the world should work, or, most dangerously, both.

Climate is weather over time. Yep, they are different, but they are inextricably linked. The analogy is to this phrase we often hear in education- “The Real World.” And we hear this in many different ways, from the questioning of students, “When am I going to use this in the real world?”, to the scolding of teachers, “You won’t be able to do that in the real world”, to the global goal of education, “To prepare students for the real world.” Most often, the real world and education are set up as opposed, as not related. On one hand, this is utterly bizarre to me- as though we could actually create a fake world in which people lived. No matter what, you are in a real world, even if it is virtual. Another rabbit hole.

There is something otherworldly about education, today, though. Or rather, there are many, many things. By way of thought experiment, imagine you were an extraterrestrial visitor coming to a high school with your sole scientific task to determine what was valuable to an adult human based on how we treated and taught our children. It is impossible to have the emotional remove of this ET, and equally impossible not to force connections- “Oh, of course you learned about all of the Chinese Dynasties, and photosynthesis, and the conjugation of the past tenses of Spanish verbs- this is important.” Um, no.

In fact, something even more peculiar has happened which was just pointed out to me. Our education system is actually set up not to be like our adult world so much so that any education that works to be more like that adult world is foreign and should be resisted. If you do not believe me, try this experiment at your next party. Tell anyone who will listen you are going to start a school, a preparatory academy that is really going to get students ready for the real world. All students will have to work in a business and run its books, keeping it solvent over the length of their time at school. They will work like architects and engineers of the human condition, understanding what makes themselves tick, the relevance of body language, and the importance of empathy and compassion. These will not be mere add ons to their curriculum, but the curriculum itself. English will be communication, and math will be numeracy and financial literacy, and you will always abide by one rule- for every math class a student takes, they have to take at least four on relationships, in love, and emotion, and ethics. And, if the idea of a class on love does not choke your audience, tell them this- you will not ever have a single kid look at a Standardized Test.

Folks, you will have precisely three students at your school, because despite the fact that adults live in a world almost completely unrelated to what happens in most schools, we somehow seem bent on perpetuating this system, content, at some level, knowing that we choose students based on how they answer this question: “The equation 24×2+25x−47ax−2=−8x−3−53ax−2 is true for all values of x≠2a, where a is a constant. What is the value of a?”

At this point in your conversation, you might hear a polite cough, then, “How about that weather?”

Harry Weekes