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Yes Virginia, In Real Life There Are Red Pens And Trophies

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Every day I’m in my classroom. No, not the brick and mortar academic kind — the classroom of real life. It’s an amazing learning experience. I believe that my early education has a great deal to do with preparing me to make my way in the world. I wish I could say the same for those who are following me. But I fear that in many ways our schools are preparing our next generation for a major fall.

Elementary Education

I have to admit it. I was not a big fan of school but went because I was forced to both by the state of Illinois and my parents. One of my main motivations to do well in school was seeing one of my schoolyard friends forced to repeat the first grade.

That was a pretty eye opening experience. My first real school lesson is that you don’t just show up and put in the time. You have to prove yourself to someone in a position of authority. It would be a lesson that would follow me all of my life.

My parents didn’t demand all “A’s” but they seemed to have a real problem with “D’s” or lower. Every summer vacation day began at breakfast with my mother grilling me on the multiplication tables. Or, “Tell me the difference between ‘their,’ ‘they’re’ and ‘there.” “When was the battle of 1812?” I always missed that one.

Preparation for Life

I’m not sure if students are held back in school any longer. It seems that our educational system has become some kind of assembly line. There is a checker at the end of the line simply passing product through even though it’s obviously defective. Students can’t read, write, spell or form complete coherent sentences. Is it any wonder that we have high double-digit unemployment within the nineteen to twenty-five year old age groups? They are totally unprepared to function in society.

Red Pens and Trophies

I can’t remember too many tests that didn’t have a few red marks on them somewhere. I realized that these marks were not there to focus on my stupidity or belittle me in some way. Instead they were alerting me to the correct path to take. The red marks were no more than a one-way street sign telling me I might want to turn around and go the right direction. The one-way street sign didn’t make me feel like less of a person or shame me in any way.

Yet our academic leaders seem to think that protecting students from some imaginary hurt will somehow make them stronger in the real world. Well you can take it from me that they use red pens in real life. And those red marks hurting your feelings are the last thing on that authority figure’s mind.

There are winners and losers in every aspect of life. Winning or losing is never permanent. But losing a softball game on a school playground might damage a kid’s self esteem. Heaven forbid. So now everyone gets a participation trophy and no one keeps score. Well I am also here to tell you that they definitely keep score in real life.

Some Final Thoughts

Life is not lollypops and rainbows. It’s a very competitive world out there and our schools are not doing their job in preparing students to meet the challenges of the future. No one wants to see a kid feel bad. No one wants his or her feelings hurt. No one wants to feel left out.

But as you are growing up you learn how to handle those challenges. And we do that each in our own way. It’s called adapting and it has kept the human species going for a very long time. Luck is nothing more than preparation meeting opportunity. If your child is not prepared life will not spare the red pen and the trophies will be few and far between.

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