What If There Isn’t a Real World?

One day we will no longer live in pandemic-world and I will be able to start a blog post with a phrase other than “The other day on Facebook.” But, we don’t live in that world yet. So …

The other day on Facebook some parents were concerned about finals at the high school. They were concerned about the stress, drama and pressure students are facing while trying to go to remote high school. Predictably, some people agreed and some people did not. Along with various versions of “yes,” there were several comments along the lines of  “How will they learn to study for finals in college if they don’t do it now” and “But that’s not the way the real world works.”

Ahh, the real world. Last night on Facebook I got into a little bit of a tiff with a woman I don’t know because she wrote a review of the Hallmark Hanukkah movie and called it a “shanda” (Yiddish for shameful) and then shared that review in a group we’re both in. I spent last night lying on the couch watching the Hallmark Hanukkah movie, primarily because it seemed like a good way to get everyone in my family to leave me alone for two hours. The alone time was excellent, the movie was not. But, one of this woman’s complaints about the movie was that the Jewish family had a wreath with blue ornaments on their door. She declared that impossible.

Believe me when I tell you, the wreath was not the least plausible thing about this movie. For example, it does not occur to a mom who gave a girl up for adoption years ago that the mystery DNA match might be her daughter, until said daughter reveals her birthdate. Also, everyone in the movie runs a restaurant and no one is the least bit worried about being closed for an extended period of time. Finally, the least realistic element, there’s a guy who makes a really nice living as a freelance restaurant critic. Wreath on a Jewish door? Meh, it’s plausible.

Now, obviously, wreaths aren’t very Jewish, but I certainly know families that have them. In our conversation, it came out that the critic’s Jewish experience is entirely with Chabad, an ultra-orthodox group. At that point, I had to bow out of the conversation. Because despite both having lived in Louisville and Chicago, her “real world” of Jews was entirely different than my “real world” of Jews.

A few years ago when there were dress code debates at the high school a parent complained that “in the real world” women could not wear leggings to work, so they shouldn’t be allowed to do so in high school. In my over 25 years of professional work, I’ve worked exactly two places with any sort of dress code. I’ve seen people doing highly paid work in leggings, pajama pants, short shorts, flip flops and halter tops. The truth is, there is no dress code in the real world.

Or I should say, there’s no dress code in my real world. I’m sure that just like the movie critic lives in a world where American Jews and Christians don’t share a culture, other people live in a world where everyone wears suits and dresses to work. Still other people live in worlds where everyone wears coveralls, scrubs, or waitress uniforms.

If nothing else, I would think that a Trump presidency and Covid-19 has taught us that what we think is the “real world,” just doesn’t exist.

Education has always been about preparing kids for what the adults around them feel the “real world” has in store. Many people forget that the Montessori method, today generally only affordable to wealthier families, was started in 1906 to train poor kids to become better factory workers. Similarly, the even more exclusive Reggio Emilia method was developed to help post-WW II children in Reggio Emilia, a town in Italy. It’s natural that we expect a high school grading policy or dress code to be relevant to the real world we think our kids will inhabit. But we shouldn’t tie their entire educational experience to that vision.

So many of the things that inhabit our “real world” today, from the Internet to Covid to cell phones, did not exist when I was in high school. As late as graduate school, I was learning to do research involving microfiche machines, because when I did research “in the real world,” it would be important.

I don’t know about you, but no part of my post-school life has involved a card catalog, let alone a microfiche machine. I’ve also never been asked to recite Hamlet’s soliloquy, or the periodic table of the elements. I am a professional writer, and I cannot diagram a sentence.

In short, I’ve learned to live in a world totally different than the one my teachers and parents prepared me for. I have to trust that come what may, finals, or dress codes, or wreaths on the door, our children will as well.


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