Homeschooling and the Myth of the “Real World”

Homeschoolers encounter a lot of skeptics.

In choosing to reject the status quo, we accept the fact that we will face questions. Are you trained? How will your kids get into college? WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?!?

Even the most confident among us — even those who have solid answers for the above questions and more — can feel cowed when confronted with somebody who clearly finds us odd (and maybe even dangerous). And so it was that I recently found myself desperately trying to sound coherent (but not defensive), confident about my children’s prospects (but not critical of other educational choices) when a well-meaning person asked me:

“How are your children going to be prepared for the real world?”

My answer had something to do with how I get my kids out and about quite often, and the statistics about how well homeschoolers do in college, blah, blah, blah…but, as is so often the case, I spent days afterward mulling over the conversation and analyzing my response and basically wondering why I’m such a wimp. And here’s the question to which my mind kept returning:

What, exactly, IS the “real world”?

For the majority of American kids, the real world, for thirteen years, is public school.

For plenty of kids, though, it’s private school.

For an increasing number, it’s home education. (And, incidentally, you can bet that the children of most celebrities are in this group, though with a pricey private tutor instead of mom or dad).

The real world, however, is so much bigger than any of that.

This summer, our family participated in the Read the World Book Club. Each week, along with thousands of other families, we’ve learned about a different region of the world through reading picture books — fiction and nonfiction — from that part of the world. We’ve watched videos about the land and culture, and experimented with recipes from around the globe. Throughout the process, our children have come to understand the vastness of the world…and the smallness of our corner of it.

The truth is, everybody’s experience is limited. The “real world” consists of so much more than children experience in any educational setting. And the last thing I want to do is teach them that everybody is exactly like they are.

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I want them to know that many people in the real world don’t eat different food every day.

That many children in the real world don’t know how to read, and if somebody gives them the opportunity to learn, they will do anything to make it happen.

That throughout the real world, people live in deserts, mountains, and jungles. They live in huts, high-rise buildings, and tents. They travel by camel, by canoe, and on foot.

That there are many more ways of living life than we could ever grasp…and that every person who is living it has thoughts, feelings, and dreams. That, in encountering people who differ from us, we can probably learn much more than we will ever learn in any classroom…or at home.

How am I preparing my children for the real world?

By helping them to understand that school, no matter where it takes place, represents such a tiny portion of life, both in space and time. Once we’ve put in our thirteen years…that’s when we go out into the real world and see where we fit into it.