Another school year is ending – the first since I retired from Education. It’s the first school year I’ve missed since 1986. It seems like, until recently, I’ve always been in school. That makes me one of the lucky ones, I guess. I got a great education at Kenwood High School in Baltimore, learned some more cool stuff in the Army, studied at a handful of community colleges, and then spent another six years at USF in Tampa. And finally, real life.
However, as much as I learned in the world of Academics, I was incredibly surprised by what I did not know about life in the real world. The world is complex; there are so many more parts to the machine than I had expected. But I had spent all those years sheltered in places where most everything occurred between the pages of books. Life outside the gate is so much different. How could I have known?
In school I had learned some life lessons. I found out about emotional betrayal, physical assault, loneliness, indebtedness, and even death. I learned about some good things, too, like love and friendship and honest competition. But these experiences and bits and pieces of knowledge were paltry in comparison with what was really out there. Book smarts are good to have, but so is the knowledge imparted by life experiences. Without just the right balance of the two, we’d all be in a world of hurt.
And maybe that’s the problem.
I’ve read lately that the current generation of new adults may be the first in American history to do less well than their parents. I feel like such a buffoon because I’ve spent the last 27 years in the classroom assuring my students that dedication, perseverance, hard work, and a giving nature would guarantee their success and the same type of happiness I had enjoyed. I believed it because that’s what I remembered from my own young adulthood.
And then last June, when I retired from Education, I entered ‘real life’ for the second time.
Things don’t seem to be quite as peachy-keen out here as I had been telling my kids. As their teacher, not only was I living in the same world of Academics that they were, but I was being influenced by their hopes and dreams. Twenty-seven years of ‘chipmunks and rainbows’ had kept me in a state of social ignorance, and when I retired I felt the same shock as many of my students felt a week or two after graduation.
I had painted a world where everyone was doing well, we all got along, racial inequality was a thing of the past, and pants were worn high enough to cover your underwear. I talked of a world where you could go see a movie in a theatre without dying. I was so, so wrong about almost everything.
But I was a teacher then. I was still in school, too.
How could I have known?