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The Real World


It's the biggest game of "Let's Pretend" around. It seems that average to below-average students are disappearing rapidly from pre-collegiate and college campuses throughout the United States. Where did they all go so quickly? Is our educational system really so outstanding despite the daily news to the contrary?

The College Board reports that since 1972 the percentage of ZTC college-bound seniors reporting high marks in school has almost trebled. In 1972, 28.4 percent of those taking the test said they had A or B averages. By 1993, it was 83 percent.

Of course, some people are not fooled by this puffery in which easy distinction has outrun actual performance; in which "feeling good" has outdistanced trying to feel good, but sometimes missing; where the precious right of equality of opportunity is perversely replaced by the bogus right of equal achievement regardless of effort or performance.

This tomfoolery will end, some say, and they identify the point -- it's when students enter the "real world," in which "F" efforts are given "F" grades and "A" efforts are given "A" grades.

What "real world" is this? Is it the one in which athletes are paid millions and millions of dollars yearly for merely entertaining, and yet the best of teachers barely break $40,000 a year, if that, for fundamentally changing a child's life?

Is it the world in which the allurements of the "drug trade" often are more attractive to kids than a decent job? Is it the world in which even some college professors reportedly cheat on their scientific research? Is it the world in which video stores expand and libraries close? Is it the world in which the government spends up to $35,000 a year to keep a person in jail, but won't spend a fraction of that to keep the same person in school?

Is it the world in which convicted high-rolling, white-collar criminals serve minimum jail terms, retain most if not all of their fortune and add to their riches by writing a book or making a movie about their lives?

The "real world" is not going to save us. It's not going to expose truth from pretense or reveal the emperor without his clothes. In fact, the real world won't care that the emperor has no clothes except for how it might exploit this situation. It will probably either convert his nudity into entertainment at a quarter a peep or (at outrageous prices) sell him knock-off designer clothes.

So where do you go to finally have effort match performance, word match deed? Maybe President Clinton had it right when he addressed an African-American ministers' group in Memphis, Tennessee, a few weeks ago. The unequivocal foundation for integrity and truthfulness, he said, is inside ourselves where pretending begins and frankly, where it ends.

William G. Durden is director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth.


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