Four Reasons Why Poughkeepsie Day School is Not the Real World

Poughkeepsie Day School – it’s just not the real world.

Of course it’s not.  And – thank goodness for that.

And here’s why.

1. The Future: Schools work with children and young people whose lives are ahead of them. We need to be ahead of the curve and working to make things better not reflecting the status quo.

Real world? Why would we want to set our sights so low?

2. Conduct. And the way we treat each other. Take bullying for example. At PDS we can’t sanitize human behavior but we can and do pay attention. The real world makes a national pastime of humiliation, and meanspiritedness Just take a look at the world of entertainment, politics and sports.  If ‘reality’ TV with its social cruelty, distorted values, name-calling and lowest common denominator  behavior is the real world then give me Poughkeepsie Day School (and most schools for that matter) where the community ethos is to care, be kind, pay attention, try harder and seek to do better.

Society looks to schools to curb bullying and harassment and that is right.  Children deserve no less. But we might also start with expectations for, and condemnation of, the routine incivility of what passes for entertainment and public discourse.

Pat Bassett put it this way: The real world is, sad to say, unsafe, unstructured, and — worse than values-neutral — values bereft. Seven Myths About Independent Schools

Real world? Why would we want to aspire to crassness and incivility?

3. Learning. The third way in which PDS is not the real world – and thank goodness – is the latest fashion in standardization and test scores.  PDS focuses on developing citizens with a passion for living and learning. It is not a factory producing test takers.

That means we know that all children can learn to do their best work, can team with others to identify problems, can create solutions and can make a contribution to something that matters.

The current real world obsession with blunting and stunting the curriculum and the imposition of high stakes testing will do nothing to prepare children to be the creative , caring, free-range world class learners the real world needs.

We all know we’re living in a world where change and disruption seem to be the new normal. Huge worldwide economic and social shifts are challenges. But for those prepared to be globally minded, creative and entrepreneurial there’s opportunity.  Real world traditional schooling prepares children for a world that was, rather than to become the creative problem-solving entrepreneurs they will need to be.  Its success is measured by standards and bubble tests. It reduces the extraordinary human diversity to a few employable skills. Education should rather develop that cognitive diversity and focus on enhancing individual strengths and talents.

Real world? Why would we want to limit our students’ potential?

4. Play. This is such an important reason that it deserves a post all to itself. Suffice it to say that at Poughkeepsie Day School we know that play is at the heart of learning. We believe in play as the connection between what is, and what can be.

And we also believe in play as in time for recess:  Getting outdoors, making stuff up, hanging out and running around.

That real world tends to disparage both of those senses of the word play. It often sees them  as  discretionary and as time taken away from the ingestion of testable material.

Real world? Why would we want to ignore all the decades of research and theory that inform good practice?

(And if you want to say Poughkeepsie Play School that’s just fine. We can wear it as a badge of honor and mark of respect.)

So –  if Poughkeepsie Day School is not the real world – and has no desire to be  – how does it prepare children to thrive in that world?

Well – the answer is: Extremely well.

Example: Competitive colleges want our kids to the tune of $1.3 million plus offered  in merit-based aid  to our graduates  this year alone. Our seniors are relishing the opportunity to be out there in internships. Our graduates leave with all the value-added bells and whistles they can take on board.

And the anecdotes and evidence from our graduates suggest they do very well out there.

Example: as reported by the Chronogram earlier this year:

An Entrepreneur and the Last Word
When considering private schools, meet with alumni. Are they happy in their work? In their personal lives? Alexander Basek, freelance travel writer and co-founder of the travel itinerary service, graduated from Poughkeepsie Day School in 2000 and feels good about his career choice. “PDS taught me not to be afraid of following a path that’s unconventional,” Basek says. “It also gave me comfort with handling a lot of different things at once. It taught me not to pass people by who at first blush seem really different. Thanks to PDS I have a whole set of friends—and even business partners—that has enriched my life greatly.”

In our emphasis on the skills children will need to thrive in their lives we are getting it right. If life is tough, rough and competitive out there then the best preparation is a solid grounding in what it actually takes to succeed.

So it’s true. we admit it: Poughkeepsie Day School is totally not the real world.

It’s more compassionate, inclusive, demanding and yes – more complex.  Because – when you think about it –  the real world is not what children need now if they are to thrive when they actually get out there and make a life.

As I was working on this I read a tweet from sixth grade humanities teacher Shirley Rinaldi linking me to a post on the blog she shares with science teacher Laura Graceffa:

What is Authentic, Real Life Learning?

As teachers, we often talk about “the real world” and discuss “real life learning” believing that somehow our students know what we mean. I often wonder if they do understand and challenge myself to find out what more I can do to make learning real for them ….(more).

You can find that blog post here. It tells the story of a kindergarten/ sixth grade project and it’s a great example of what I’m on about.

Photo: Nicolai Berntsen


  1. Thank goodness is right!

    What a wonderful response to an all-too-often comment that’s used for anything that goes against the mainstream. (You just don’t live in the ‘Real World’)

    Let’s face it, if the mainstream worked, the world wouldn’t be where it’s at right now.

    I’m so glad that Poughkeepsie Day School is not the ‘real world’ and grateful to the amazing staff and teachers who push our children to live in a world that others won’t even dare to dream about.

    I hope that PDS students continue to ripple their ‘non real world’ values, views and education out to that so called ‘real world’.

  2. Josie:

    Thanks @Christine.

    There are those who believe life is “nasty, brutish and short”. Perhaps they are right. But there is no need to make childhood follow suit! Positively Dickensian and very counter-productive.

    And I really do not see how the regimen of standardized curriculum and standardized testing prepares anyone for any world other than life on the production line. And then perhaps promotion to egg-sorter-in-chief. But those jobs have been outsourced long ago.

    Nothing wrong with ideals, aspirations and high expectations. We need to equip children with everything that may help – all the experiences, values, self-knowledge, empathy and skills – and not merely the ability to score well on a narrowing band of abilities. And there again – our kids do very well on those tests when they really have to take them.

  3. Laura Graceffa:

    Thanks Josie, for writing this and helping our community live these ideals. I just attended my college reunion and was dismayed by how many of my accomplished classmates dislike their work. This post is a list a reasons why that is not true for me.

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