“Well, why shouldn’t the classroom be the ‘real’ world?”

This morning I posted the following blog post, by Dr. Scott McLeod (Twitter) at Dangerously Irrelevant, on my FB wall:

Our students want better work, not less work

Chris Guillebeau says:

Many people believe that the key to an improved lifestyle is less work. I think it’s better work. I believe that most of us want to work hard, but we want to do the kind of work that energizes us and makes a positive impact on others. That kind of work is worth working for, and the other kind of work is worth letting go of, finished or not. (The Art of Non-Conformity, p. 10)

BoredI think that pretty much sums it up for our students, doesn’t it? It’s not that they don’t want to work hard. It’s that they don’t want to expend too much energy on work that isn’t meaningful. When we see reports of rampant plagiarism or tales of students who want to do as little as possible in order to get a grade, isn’t that an indication that they’re doing work that’s not meaningful to them? When students are working on something that they’re passionate about, rather than apathetic, don’t most of these so-called generational ‘values’ or ‘character’ issues disappear?

Contrary to what many believe, our students don’t want to just get by. They just want better work.

This afternoon, I received a comment to that wall posting from a former student. Bethany was part of a nationwide online learning program that I helped develop and pioneer back in 1997 (she was in middle school then). She stepped into a technology rich (for the time) environment that was unlike any she had ever been part of during her schooling. I remember her tenaciousness and desire to master the technology and the learning. She is now in college studying Administrative Office Systems, so her commentary is extremely apropos. She knows what she’s talking about because, she switched majors after making the discovery she mentions in her comment.

“I completely agree with this. I think that the lack of real world experience in the class room is why a lot of college students find it so hard to find what they want to do because you are required to do all of the classwork (i.e. generals) that has little real world application to what your major is and by the time you get to the class where you shadow or work as a n intern you’ve already invested years towards a major that you’re no longer sure you want to do. There is all of this pressure in high school to know what we want to do as a career. How are we suppose to know, when all we know is the seemingly irrelevant classwork? And what annoyed me the most were that adults who would tell me, “Wait until you get into the ‘real’ world. Well, why shouldn’t the classroom be the ‘real’ world?”

Had Bethany been considered part of the equation when she entered college, things might have turned out differently. The prepackaged idea that everyone needs exactly “this amount” of exactly “these courses” seems a bit disingenuous today. Dave Cormier (Blog, Twitter) talks about this in terms of “disaggregating” the power in education, “The traditions of education are not so much about the student having choice but about the institution of education having choice [ ].” How many of you remember your World Civilizations course from freshman year? How about General Science? What was your commitment to those courses and what did you take away from them that has served you, even marginally, in the years since (answering questions while watching Cash Cab doesn’t count)?

What if Bethany had been able to design her degree? What if she had been able to work as an intern during her first year? Either one would certainly have allowed her to spend her years (and the resulting dollars) in college doing what would best lead her to achieve her goals. Instead, the reality of the career path she chose upon entering college, was kept a secret from her until she had invested significant time and money in her college experience. Should Bethany have been empowered to form a learning “guild” around her that was predicated on the social nature of learning. Yes! Educational institutions (at all levels) will continue to become more irrelevant as long as the refuse to, as Dave says, “disaggregate the power in education, [and] empower individual learners.”

Bethany’s question is pointed and she deserves an answer, “Why shouldn’t the classroom be the ‘real’ world?” Can anyone answer it?

Cross posted at Cumulative Knowledge


3 thoughts on ““Well, why shouldn’t the classroom be the ‘real’ world?”

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  1. Thought provoking post, thanks Greg. How about we rephrase the question: “What if the classroom could be a better world constructed by the students?” I think this would be exciting and positive. Afterall, the last thing we want is to keep replicating the world as it is.

    Having said this, one piece of my “reality” holds me back from wanting a world entirely of the students’ making: There is no way in the world that my friends and I would have opted to learn English beginning at Grade 5. We were having enough trouble with two other languages. Little did I know I would end up in Australia where I would pursue my dream of being a teacher.

  2. I hope that the classroom is evolving into the real world. I am a teacher and have often said that I learned nothing until college…can this be true? Yes! I learned to read at home and then “played” school very well until graduation. I was dead center in academic achievement because I prided myself on never taking home homework or textbooks. I was not interested in the least…it showed.

    When I enrolled in college, the same thing happened until I reached my 300 level classes…I breathed a sigh of relief; finally I cared about what I was learning. I graduated and went straight to grad school–only to drop after one semester. My grad classes were reading the same literature that I had read as an undergraduate…they didn’t care what I already knew…one size fits all.

    Fast-forward to present day, and I have my graduate degree in teaching (it was completely relevant) and am left wondering why school is still taught in this manner. I know I have to do something different, and to the credit of my district, I do. I play with conventional lessons, tweak tired thinking, and sprint to new arenas…hopefully some of it will reach my kiddos.

    Thanks so much for the post…100% agreement=)

  3. Like the ideas on show in this post. Someone put it to me recently that we need to move to an education system based on quality. The tricky bit is pinning down what exactly quality is and how to achieve it. There is much work to be done and it is good to see blogs such as this one asking the difficult questions. 🙂

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