The Real World or the Adult World?

Today’s social media culture constantly blurs the line between the real and the constructed which encompasses everything from the absurd to the idealized. With every student carrying an phone in their pocket, not to mention (in my position) teaching in a computer lab, there is a never ending cornucopia of connected sources such as online games or fail videos of people falling off the back of chairs and other stupid stunts. A recent favourite that gained traction features a Youtube video of some dude burping after speedily drinking a 2 litre bottle of Coke. Emulation follows and I soon have three grade 10 students burping and entertaining their friends.

Let’s face it most classrooms are slow moving, repetitious in their nature, and decidedly analogue or literally unplugged. Social media is fast moving, discontinuous, novel, absurd, and identity driven and always provides a means of escape from the moment. As teachers we must recognize that we are swimming upstream against the influence of various forms of social media which are only going to increase. For example, just around the corner are so called deep fakes which will use AI and readily available images to create fabricated videos of individuals doing and saying things that never happed. Previously I used to tell students, “I’m preparing you for the real world where you have to show up for work on time or get fired.” I would mention the horrors of repetitious jobs that don’t allow you to have access to your cell phone 24 hours a day and other expectations like being polite and taking breaks at the assigned time.

To avoid reinforcing the message that some students hold, namely that high school is not the real world, I have switched to emphasizing preparing for the adult world . Most students want the perceived freedom and respect of being an adult. When pressed they will say, “when I have a job I’ll show up on time, I’ll take it seriously.” My answer is practice now. Everyday the classroom is an opportunity to practice adult skills. I remind them that adults think and behave in certain ways that are beneficial to them. Successful adults work hard and show other adults in their work environment respect. I remind them that if they plan on escaping the life of a teenager then they need to develop adult skills. This is why showing up on time on a regular basis, and staying on task are important indicators of the current progress towards adulthood of a student.

As teachers we often push against a culture that is steeped in spectacle and novelty. When we reinforce the classroom stereotype of preparing for the real world, we risk diminishing the students current experience and progress towards becoming adults.