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Bruno: School Is Part Of The Real World

6429810611_b9001d501d_nLast week Valeries Strauss published a post by Penelope Trunk arguing that schools shouldn't be so "uptight" about cheating.

Cheating, she argued, involves skills - like networking and collaboration - that are valued in the workplace and important for students to learn.

In a response (also on Strauss' blog), Elaine Power says what needs to be said about the most obvious problems with Trunk's argument.

In particular, Trunk seems to be confused about what educators mean when they talk about "cheating" and about why they discourage it. (Either that or she's spent time in some extremely unusual and cut-throat workplaces.)

More generally, I think Trunk is commiting an all-too-common edu-fallacy. The language varies, but oftentimes commentators will propose that schooling would be improved if it were made more like the "real world" and thus more "authentic".

Trunk makes this argument about cheating, but you can find it being made about all kinds of things in education, from teaching methods to curricular content to student motivation and classroom management. What unites these claims is the assumption that the more school life imitates "real life", the better.

That assumption is fallacious for at least two reasons.

First, school is part of the "real world". In practice, schools are the "real world" way that the vast majority of individuals develop many of the academic and social skills that they end up using in their adult lives. School is definitely different from life outside of school, but probably not much more so than various parts of out-of-school life - like work life and home/family life - are different from each other.

The fact is, we don't normally assume that every area of our lives should function according to the same rules, so there's no obvious reason to single out school as needing to be more like some other part of life.

Second, even if you want to draw a clear distinction between "school" and "the real world", the purposes of school are rarely the same as the purposes of other parts of life. School is often about learning things or demonstrating that you know them and work, for example, is often about producing something of value to your employer. Those goals are very different, so only rarely will it make sense to accomplish them by using the same methods and following the same rules.

So it's a mistake to assume that a change that makes school more like the world outside of school is, ipso facto, an improvement. And it's a common-enough fallacy that it probably deserves its own name. I'll take suggestions in the comments. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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