What’s wrong with this picture? The backdrop looks like it could be right here at Grauer School, but could it be?
This photo, with brochure, was sent by a commercial school consulting firm to schoolheads all over the country. It’s supposed to be your child’s school campus, a fearful and dangerous place. Ironically, as you will see, it is supposed to make you stand up and say, “I’m not going to live like this!” This photo came accompanied with a lot of sales verbiage about school safety, substance abuse, bullying, and all the issues so salient to educators today, nationwide. Appropriately fearful school leaders are supposed to dip deeply into scarce school funds and purchase all sorts of programs to prove the safety of their campuses. What are the presumptions embedded in this? What is this world they are presuming we live in?
It is photos like the above that are supposed to represent “the real world.” Wow! If you are reading this, ask yourself: Is this my reality?
“The real world” often represented as mainstream is an overcrowded, repressed, and conflicted place. I suppose it might be ironic that my only anger and frustration is in people who see the world as angry and frustrating. I don’t see it that way at all. Do you? I see the real world as a liberating place. I think it’s time to set the record straight:
- I see people as able, friendly, and dependable rather than unable, mean and undependable.
- The real world I know is filled primarily with lovely people who want to do well and want to help. People are essentially good and productive, especially if their environment is right.
- The real world I envision does not have 2000 kids locked into a cyclone-fenced compound every day.
- The real world I live in is filled with conversations with people who are approachable, want to be heard and understood–nothing like the photo.
- As a school head, the real world I am preparing our students for is not filled with cliques, gridlocked institutionalization, and formulaic approaches to “real world” problems. Because that’s not the way real people solve problems. People solve problems in caring communities and connected organizations. Shouldn’t schools be teaching students how to be effective in an environment like that?
Obviously, I know there are plenty of sleazebags out there, but what I find much more important is that we are rarely helpless and we have a hand in developing environments where we are not victims. A small school is a great example of such an environment. There is virtually no violence in schools of less than 200. Like the real world you probably live in, there are no predators lurking in shadows. Small schools are practical and attainable: the costs of schools of less than 200 are often comparable to that of big schools when you factor in the collateral problems (drop outs, drugs, teacher burnout, etc.) of large institutional settings often viewed as real world schools. I will admit, you can find very little of this research in “real world” research, because the smart money’s not in student-centered schooling. Connectivity of students, parents and faculty drops off in schools of 400 and up.
If someone ever suggests to you that your child should go to a larger school than The Grauer School because it is more “real world,” I’d like to talk with them. I’d like to know if they think we should educate our kids to just cope with the world’s pathologies or, instead, prepare them to create a better world. I’d like to know if they would want their own “real world” office or place of work to be set in a compound of 2000 teens who have restricted access to great conversations with adults.
I don’t believe I’m a fool or an unrealistic idealist. I understand that education is surrounded by corporate contractors who make their fortunes selling fear. I understand that, today, in education, the smart money’s in violence. I just think we can come up with a better picture. Here. How’s this for “the real world?”
There. I feel better. Thank you for reading.