I’ve previously written about my annoyance with the term “real world.” It really irks me like few things do. Perhaps I’m sensitive to being accused of not living there, despite the fact that each year I try to teach over 200 students how to write more effectively. Given that most work environments value good communication skills, and that most workers with college degrees spend 20% of their time writing, I think my job qualifies as “real world.”
Then why am I resistant to Jan Herrington’s notion of assigning “realistic tasks in academic settings?” (illustrated here on an excellent YouTube video of her matrix.) After all, I’m currently finishing up a class, Writing for Business, where I’ve assigned a number of tasks (memos, info-graphics, instructional manuals, etc) that fit her Lower Left quadrant.
Here’s my problem: in this rapidly changing world, “realistic tasks” quickly become fantasical (or, even worse, nostaligic.)
A 2009 Fastweb article called “Ten Majors that Didn’t Exist Ten Years Ago” makes a good case that if we focus on the present, we’ll lose the future. Given that most biology textbooks are outdated in two years, and that the hot jobs five years from now might not exist today, does today’s “real world” have value for tomorrow’s life-long learner?
Here are a few things that are more crucial than real-world application (which might be a mere transitory illusion anyway) and should be emphasized as the foundation of any education (not an exhaustive list, just a doodle of sorts):
Adult psychological development
Sure, any one of these could be utilized in real-world tasks, applied to a job, and be made to fit a specific major or profession. That’s fine. But, since most people change majors, jobs, careers, and callings, and since we don’t know what the job market will be looking for in the future, I think it makes more sense to focus on these foundational, underlying qualities that can be applied to anything, and that, in my opinion, signify what it means to be educated.