PUBLISHED: 12:30 PM on Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Get real:Connecting school work with 'real world' helps students do better in the classroom

When am I ever going to use this in the "real world?"

Every parent has probably heard these words from the mouth of a teenager who doesn't understand the connection between schoolwork and the rest of life. You may not have an answer for all of their questions. It's tough to get your daughter who plans to be a lawyer to understand why she really needs trigonometry or physics.

There are many reasons for students to take challenging courses and understand what the teachers are trying to get across. One of the best reasons is that people who take challenging courses and study hard in high school tend to have better jobs and make more money in their careers. Think of some of the jobs that require the most education, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and you'll find that most of these jobs pay very well.

When your son complains about trying to find "hidden meanings" in English class literature, you can explain another good benefit of education. It helps you to better understand the political issues of the day, the newspapers and books that you read, and the movies that you see because the mind is trained to delve beneath the surface. Your mind is trained to "read between the lines," to separate fact from fiction, and to understand subtle messages in all types of communications.

A study from The Ohio State University and Bowling Green University suggests that people with higher levels of education are more tolerant of people from other cultures and racial groups. Education produces understanding, and understanding eliminates unnecessary fears.

So how do you explain these benefits to a student? A young woman who becomes an attorney may not need to use calculus on a daily basis, but if she wants to specialize in patent law or to represent a pharmaceutical company, the ability to grasp math and science concepts will be very valuable.

Likewise, a young man who wants to be a journalist will need math to better understand corporate and government documents. The ability to see beneath the surface of the numbers could mean the difference between getting a good story or missing one. And as a writer, he will need training in English literature to view writing as an art, delivering important messages without hitting readers bluntly over the head.

You also never know exactly what career path you'll follow. When I was a teenager I thought I'd be a lawyer, or possibly a fashion designer. One of the classes that I was sure that I'd never use was statistics. And guess what - I use statistics nearly every day in my job.

ACT research shows the link between academic skill and job quality. Higher-level reading, math and science skills are needed for high-paying, high-demand careers.

We tell our children from the first day of kindergarten that they need to work hard in school and get good grades, but they may not always understand why they need to do that. By giving them everyday examples, you can show them how academics can help them get better jobs, do their jobs better, and just as importantly, learn to think for themselves.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. She is a mother and has a master's of education in guidance and counseling.