Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Real World -- commentary

"We must prepare our kids for the real world," has become the justification for the expenditure of mega bucks on technology in our schools. It sounds good but I think people who say this have in mind employers like Google and Microsoft. But, what is real world employment going to be for most of our kids in Northeast Arkansas?

To begin with, I find educators preparing students for the real world a bit ironic. Most educators went from their public schools to college and back into the public schools, having bypassed the “real” world. When I first set foot on the modern public school campus at age 50, I was struck by the artificial nature of it all. That aside, most of our kids will go to work for entrepreneurs and start-up companies in our communities where most new jobs are being made, and any needed technology will be learned on the job.

Real world work is different for each of us, but I'll share it from my experience, something for which neither school nor technology could have prepared me.

I landed my first real job at age 16 milking cows, $200 a month plus board and room. Not bad for 1958. My first 15 seconds on the job went like this: "Good morning Oggie; what do you want me to do first."

He was highly frustrated by a malfunctioning bottle capper which was missing every third bottle or so. He grabbed a quart, glass bottle of milk and smashed it on the cement floor. "Get out of here, just get out of here," he shouted in his heavy Danish, nearly impossible to understand brogue.

Of course I left, but I returned about 10 minutes later, and we restarted the relationship. He was mostly a good boss, but at times I could hear him shouting at some poor hired hand while I was a quarter of a mile out in the field. He went through hired hands like a philanderer goes through girl friends, but I kept my job and learned to put up with the occasional explosion.

As an 18-year-old Air Force enlistee, I worked for a warrant officer who had as one goal to see me in the stockade before he rotated to his next assignment, as reported to me by my lead sergeant. I frustrated the officer’s attempts to reach that goal, and in the process learned another of life’s many lessons: Life is a cat and mouse game and you are the mouse. Learn to play smart.

In my mid 20's, I worked for an editor who thought it appropriate to scream and swear at employees in front of the entire staff; yes, I was the victim on occasion. He couldn’t understand why I left when a better opportunity came along, one which didn’t have a screamer. In my late 30's, I worked for an insurance manager who thought it appropriate to berate me on an elevator full of strangers because I was selling products my clients needed rather than ones that made the most money for the company.

The best bosses I have had by far have been school administrators: Grover Cooper, James Dunivan, Myra Graham, Keith McDaniels, Karen Curtner, Jim Best, and others. Unfortunately, we can’t all work for the schools.

I will talk about technology in the classroom in my next column; however, I was teaching in Tuckerman when computers first started showing up in the schools. It began with computer labs. I was surprised at how fast the students went from “Do we get to go to the computer lab today,” said with excitement, to “do we have to go to the computer lab today?” The change took place when they discovered computers were there to enhance their work, not for playing games.

Technology will not equip our kids to deal with the bosses I describe, but such bosses are still out there, and bosses, no matter their style, must be kept happy. Our students are not going to fail in the job market for a lack of computer skills. They are going to fail for an over inflated sense of self esteem based on hollow praise instead of actual accomplishment, an unwillingness to respect those in authority, the failure to get to work on time, and the failure to do anything worthy of their pay once they get there. If they can overcome these weaknesses, the technology skills will take care of themselves.

A good work ethic, a sense of responsibility, and respect for authority should be taught in the home, but too often they are not. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know computer skills will not compensate in the real world for lack of these skills.

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