I often hear from teachers, parents, and students that “in real life,” things are much different. By that, they mean that school is a stand-in for something more complex, more challenging, or a wholly divergent set of skills.
I interpret that statement to mean that “school life” is not “real life.” Does this make school “imaginary life”?
Funnily, many of us live in this imaginary world for 20-plus years, some longer, and some even choose an "imaginary" career in education. While I agree that life after school, and even outside of school, can be occasionally dissimilar from what occurs inside the safe and coddled walls of academia, I would argue that most of the skills acquired there are transferable. Let me explain.
In school, young people learn knowledge and skills such as history, geography, math, and reading. In some schools, they might even learn to code, build robots, play musical instruments, learn to love literature, and improve their health through sport. Is none of that useful in “real life”?
Through competitive sport, students learn what it takes to win gracefully and to lose well, how to be a good teammate, how to set and chase down your goals, and how the human body benefits from exercise. Luckily, once you graduate these attributes are no longer important.
Good schools help students resolve conflict through mediation, apologize when they do something wrong, and persevere through mistakes and hardship–for learning should be hard. Does the "real world” not value such things?
Other non-worldly skills include public speaking and rhetoric, debate, chess, communication skills including persuasive writing, problem solving, and logic. Do these become old-fashioned and unhelpful once you leave school? If so, that would be a shame. The same can be said for developing interpersonal skills, socializing, assessment of your work, and constructive feedback. Who needs to know more about themselves or their learning? Would "real worlders" say, “no one”?
Acknowledging that school is not the end of life but should be great preparation for one often leads me to advise, “Don´t peak in high school.” However, to suggest that the 12 or more years that young people spend in elementary and high school isn’t real life is an exaggeration and, in fact, an insult.
Conflict, success, empathy, regret, passion, discrimination, friendship, and love; all are omnipresent in “school life” just as they are in real life. Perhaps missing are bills, taxes, divorce, and death–although unfortunately not always–but the time spent in school is as real as the time that follows.
Hopefully, time in school is significantly less unkind, and the guided support allows for the growth and development needed to thrive after this "imaginary" period in one´s life. Or, for those of us who elected to pursue a career in education, an excellent “virtual” preparation for the "real thing."