It has been confirmed that schools, K-16 and beyond, are part of the real world. They are not isolated in a bubble of protection, separated from the rest of society while these young ones grow in an environment sheltered from the world’s harsh realities. The internet of instant news has only exacerbated the downside of that issue. One might wonder, in the day of lockdowns and stepped up security, what children are learning coincidentally along with the rest of the curriculum.
Schools help shape children’s beliefs of how the world works; at their very best, schools, and the good teachers in them, empower moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, schools could mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope.
What does it say to kids about priorities when the United States allocates 20% of its budget, or about $720 billion on defense and 4% or $11 billion on education? One of the arguments is that we have to remain safe, well defended from our enemies, in order to have a free and open society. Perhaps the question is about equity in education, not trying to take anything away but rather to consider the essentials.
Here is another example from the real world. At the “power conferences” — the Southeastern, Big 12, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big East — median athletic spending per athlete topped $100,000 in 2010, and each conference spent at least six times more on athletics than academics, per capita. Many college presidents would like to pull back on athletic spending but because the constituencies for increasing spending are numerous and powerful, and the counter pressures are few and relatively powerless, guess what? It’s unlikely to happen.
The hopeful signs are that real world problems are now much more part of good schools’ programs. Issues such as hunger, poverty, disease, the environment, violence, politics, health care and education itself are now being examined in schools using history, science, mathematics, literature and the arts, through project based learning, experiential education and great teaching.
Students today have an opportunity to do better than their predecessors with making the world a better, safer, healthier, more just and peaceful planet. Our children deserve the best that we have to offer them in schools that are part of the real world where laboratories and studios are alive with critical thinking problem solving, and tangible results.
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