There’s a joke on the internet that millennials and Gen Z don’t know how to write a check and aren’t comfortable talking on a telephone, but—by George—they know that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” Never mind that “mitochondria” is plural for “mitochondrion!” Another encyclopedic definition my millennial classmates and I committed to memory was for “irony:’ “a cruel joke of fate.”
Surely the quandary of teaching to the test versus applicable lessons predates the twentieth century, but when standardized testing became in vogue, the former curriculum model became more sensible. The urgency put on teachers to ensure students passed tests, to keep pace with other nations, pushed critical thinking and practical life skills to the back burner.
So, by and large, our young people can discern the parts of a cell printed on a grainy black-and-white page more aptly than they can approximate real-world costs on a prospective budget. That’s a problem.
But Wait, There’s More
Add to this pragmatic ignorance the promise since kindergarten that “with enough effort, you can be the very best at anything you want to be.” Now we have high schoolers who think that soon enough they will be the singer or pro athlete or doctor they always thought they would.
These unfortunate variables at play in schools across the nation can result in a “quarter-life crisis” wherein young adults are disillusioned with their entry-level jobs because they’re not providing the fulfillment they believed work would.
So, Why Work?
I don’t need to tell any faithful IFWE reader that work is not a necessary evil. Rather, it was an Edenic gift from the Lord to humanity. Neither do you need reminding that work’s laboriousness is due to our most ancient ancestors’ sin—and we would have been no more innocent in their place. It is for this reason that we now dread Mondays and work only to get paid.
We are looking at our job not through a dim mirror (1 Cor 13:12) but through a shattered mirror where work, in its brokenness, is unrecognizable from God’s original design.
Where I Came From and Where I Am
My current job is a “cruel joke of fate”—or more like irony from God. I prepare students ages 14 to 22 for life after high school. It’s ironic because when I was their age, I was critical of what I perceived society expected of me: go to college to get a good job to pay for college and a house and family until you retire. I’ll add to a quote by Dave Ramsey from his book, The Total Money Makeover, to summarize my beliefs about adulthood:
We work jobs we hate to “buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
I planned to buck the mold and live how I pleased. Not selfishly, but intentionally. If I was going to do it “their” way, I would get there because I wanted to.
I recall despising a bumper sticker I read around that time. “Reality: the sooner the better.”
I planned to eke my own reality yet here I am “teaching kids to be grown-ups” as my wife once described it to our young son.
That’s because I only teach students with disabilities, certainly an extensive and underserved population, but it still omits a larger demographic of all high school students. My wife also recently remarked that students without disabilities would find my curriculum invaluable, and I agree.
A Healthy Dose of Reality
In high school, I don’t think I would have responded well to someone teaching me to be a grown-up. My senioritis would have flared and I probably would have done the least amount required of me, just enough to show the instructor respect.
That angsty mindset is still fresh in my memory and I assume it in my students, though I’ve been surprised by their reception to some lessons. One was proud to grasp the purpose of insurance, a categorically mature subject. Another student slept through each session but came out of hibernation on the day I talked about what living in a dorm could look like. On the whole, the older they are, the closer to graduation they come, the more interested they are in preparing for the real world.
Students need a healthy dose of reality, age-appropriate education for what life is really like and how that’ll affect their goals. They’re done with the milk of test-prepping, hungry for the meat of how to live on their own. They need to participate in meaningful conversations about what independent living looks like, setting realistic budgets, how to cook, the difficulty of getting their dream job, and how to combat keeping up with the Joneses.
They don’t need explicitly biblical instruction. But using biblical definitions for words like “work,” deserve,” and “success” will transform the minds of students going into the real world because they’ll be equipped with the most real reality there is.