When I was an undergraduate student at Southeast Missouri State, I witnessed my advanced composition professor deal with something that is inevitable for all teachers. One of my classmates commented that our focus for the day was something that would not help us in the real world. At this, Dr. Hogan did not throw the student out of class, nor did he even appear frustrated. He simply looked at the student and stated, “School is the real world.”
At first I took this as pure rhetoric—just something a professor would say in an attempt to motivate a group of jaded English majors to realize their potentional. Everyone I’d ever talked to regarding my future, up until this point, had always used the phrase “When you get in the real world…,” as if one magical day I’d be taken through some sort of fourth dimension, in which everything about high school college would vanish forever.
It has been nearly two years since I graduated from college, and not only have I not forgotten what Dr. Hogan said, I’ve come to accept it as my own personal belief. School is, in fact, the real world. Sure, students—especially those in K-12 schools—are not given quite the same liberties members of the so-called real world are. However, much of what young people are forced to deal with as students is exactly what they’ll face upon leaving school. Just like members of the work force, students must meet deadlines, follow rules, face challenges, communicate and work with others, take on numerous responsibilities and obligations, and respect (or at least pretend to respect) those in positions of authority.
Granted, much of the subject matter covered in school—the algebraic equations, the past participles, the breeding habits of rhinoceros beetle—will not have a direct impact on most students’ future careers. But that doesn’t mean the qualities they must develop in learning these things, such as organization, critical thinking, and self-motivation, will never come into play when they leave school.
Furthermore, a student’s performance in school can have a direct impact on his or her career. I did well enough in high school to earn college scholarships. I did well enough in college to impress perspective employers with a high GPA. Perhaps the idea that school is the real world was something I always believed, and it just took Dr. Hogan’s words to actually make me aware of it.
Now, like Dr. Hogan, I am an English at my former high school. And nearly every day I’m faced with the same “Why do we need to know this?” resistance. I tell them it’s going to be on the test. I tell them they’ll need to know it for college. I tell them that what they do in English affects all their classes. But what I really wish they’d come to realize is that what they do in school will echo throughout their lives.
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