In his contribution to "Evocative Objects: Reflections on Teaching, Learning, and Living in Between," Doug Hesse remarks that "schooling is designed to teach things that mere living never will" (329). I find the comment to be a provocative one, problematic in one sense, but illuminating in another.
The problem in the comment comes from the idea of "mere living." While I am one of those whom Hesse identifies as having "never lived outside schooling for any appreciable length of time" (330), I find that there is not terribly much "mere" about my life--and many if not most of the folks I know have had far more interesting times than have I. Many of my graduate school classmates (and no small number of my undergraduate classmates, in all honesty) spent quite a bit of time in the "real world" before returning to school--and the students in my classrooms now are often in the same situation. They, and many of the other people whom I know through non-academic schooling (I am a student, albeit not good enough of one, of martial arts), church, and having been in the non-academic workforce while in high school and college, have had a variety of experiences, traveling and living around the world, engaging in activities of various degrees of illicitness and entertainment, and facing challenges of which I can barely conceive. Facing censure, imprisonment, deportation, maiming, and death, sometimes on a daily basis, implies that there is some substance to that which is done, and a number of people I know face such things regularly; even more than is the case with me, there is little "mere" about the living that many people I know do.
That said, instructional as a fully lived, un-"mere" life can be, Hesse is correct in noting that there are things school teaches which cannot be had, or cannot be had with anything like reliability or certainty, outside of it. If nothing else, schooling offers exposure to a number of ideas and concepts that typically do not fly about in conversations among non-academics. If they do, they are usually not connected to the thoughts that other people have, over the many centuries of records of such thing, put together and disseminated. Typically, the kind of time involved in formulating and developing an idea that school affords is not to be had outside of it, and the relative leisure to develop ideas, as well as the resources to see where they and similar ideas have already been developed and tested, is certainly of great value.
Obviously I think so, or I would not have spent so long in the classroom, both seated and standing in front of it, as I have.
It is incumbent upon those of us who do have the privilege of life in the academic establishment to keep in mind that there is quite a bit of world outside of the ivory tower, upon which we depend. It little behooves us to condemn the working world as "mere," however true it is that we are able to offer to it something it cannot get, or can only get with great difficulty and little reliability, elsewhere.
Hesse, Doug, Nancy Sommers, and Kathleen Blake Yancey. "Evocative Objects: Reflections on Teaching, Learning, and Living in Between." College English 74.4 (March 2012): 325-50. Print.