May-June 2011 Selected Content
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Does Homeschooling Prepare Kids for the Real World?
As homeschoolers, we are sometimes asked challenging questions. One is: Does homeschooling prepare kids for the real world? The implication seems to be that because homeschooled children spend so much time with their families, and because they are spared the hard knocks that often accompany attending a conventional school, they will not be prepared for the challenges and problems of adult life in the real world.
Sometimes, this question offers a welcome opportunity to explore fundamental questions. What is the real world, anyway? What attitudes and skills prepare one to deal with it effectively? To what extent do our expectations and our preparations for the real world shape the world in which we live and our experience of it?
Other times, the question "Does homeschooling prepare kids for the real world?" awakens our doubts. We may wonder whether we are doing our kids a disservice by depriving them of the learning opportunities that accompany the rough and tumble that are part of attending a conventional school: the need to wait in line, be bored, contend with bullies, witness or experience humiliation, and so forth. Will our kids be less well prepared for the real world because they've had a positive, secure childhood?
In addition, we may want to have at our fingertips a few basic ideas about how homeschooling prepares kids for the real world so we can respond quickly to an innocent or a hostile question on the subject and get on with the business of living and learning.
Also, the more clearly we understand the strengths of homeschooling, including the outstanding opportunities it offers to families to prepare kids for the real world, the more able we are to explain to others the strength and importance of homeschooling and the need for reasonable homeschooling laws and policies.
This column presents ways in which we can think about this question and respond. It is based on the premises that children do need to learn to deal with the real world. We would do them a disservice if we ignored this. However, as homeschoolers we have many opportunities to offer our kids a better way to learn this than conventional schools can.
Living in a Supportive Family and Community
First, by giving kids opportunities to spend their early years as part of a strong and loving family, we give them the space, support, and security they need to become strong, positive, can-do people. This is a much more effective way to help kids learn to deal with the real world than sending them off to conventional schools to learn to be tough and fight back as perhaps the principal way of dealing with the real world.
It is not unusual to hear homeschooling parents comment that The things they like best about homeschooling is the way it has strengthened their family. This is not surprising, given the control we homeschoolers have over our time, the spaces in which we live and work and play, our activities, our diet, and much more. Simply spending time together, getting to know each other, learning to live together, and sharing positive and negative experiences does a lot to strengthen a family.
As children grow and mature, the flexibility of homeschooling offers them many opportunities to interact in positive ways with members of their communities. Homeschoolers have the flexibility to choose activities that work well for them and that allow them to use their talents and strengths. They have time to begin activities at basic levels and gradually assume more responsibility. They are actively supported by their families as they volunteer, work for pay, and participate in community and recreational activities. Factors such as these tend to make homeschoolers' experiences in their communities positive, rewarding, and satisfying.
Living and Learning in the Real World
Second, by choosing homeschooling, we give our kids the opportunity to grow and learn in the real world, rather than isolating them in the artificial world of a conventional school. This means that as they are growing up, they learn a great deal through observation and practical experience. For example, consider the following:
• Homeschooled children see the world as it really is: people of all different ages interacting, more cooperation and less of the competition that characterizes conventional schools, opportunities for people of all ages to learn what they need to know and what interests them.
• Homeschooled children have many opportunities to observe their parents and other adults as they handle daily life. They see how much of adult life is cooperative and how adults handle situations that are competitive or aggressive. The adults they observe are better role models (at least most of the time) than would be a group of their peers who often lack the experience and maturity to deal with such challenges in positive, constructive ways.
• Homeschooled children have more opportunity to observe real work being done than they would if they attended a conventional school. In conventional schools, just about the only real work is that done by custodians and cafeteria personnel. (If we didn't have the artificial world of schools, we wouldn't need the work that is done by teachers. People would learn by observing others, by having people of all ages show them how to do things and explain things to them, and by getting involved themselves--the way most people have learned most of what they know throughout history.)
By contrast, homeschoolers volunteer and become involved in their communities, run errands, and do many other activities, including field trips that are planned to introduce them to more of the real world. And of course there's the often overlooked and undervalued but never-the-less real work of running a household: cooking, laundry, maintaining order, cleaning, and more.
• Even more important than observing real work are the opportunities that homeschoolers have to do it. Homeschoolers are more than prepared for the real world--they've already had a lot of experience living there and have learned a great deal in the process.
Developing a Healthy Perspective on the Real World
Third, we can help our kids see the positive aspects of the real world rather than viewing it as a hopelessly grim and hostile place. There is much that is good in life and the world that we can celebrate and work to increase, making the real world a more welcoming, supportive, and wholesome place for our kids, ourselves, and others. Life doesn't have to be tough to be real.
To be able to prepare children for the "real world," we need to have a clear understanding of what the "real world" is. People who ask whether homeschooling prepares kids may misunderstand not just homeschooling but the real world as well. Questioners often have a jaundiced perspective on the world. This view is often informed by the evening news; the tense, strained, and sarcastic relationships portrayed on many sitcoms; the violence in many current movies; and other aspects of popular culture that emphasize the dramatic, the tragic, the violent, the distasteful, the abusive. Many viewers forget that these events, whether actual events (reported with increasingly questionable degrees of accuracy) or fictionalized drama, qualify either as news or as sensational entertainment because they are rare, unique, and unlikely to happen to many (if any) people.
Unfortunately, tragedies do strike. But the vast majority of people's lives in the real world are based on interactions with others that are cooperative. These interactions involve working and playing with family members; spending time relaxing with friends; working cooperatively with other employees; interacting positively with health care workers, store clerks, and courteous drivers; and experiencing the kindness of strangers. Would it be an exaggeration to say that such cooperative interactions represent at least 75% of the lives of most people?
Of course, there are daily interactions that are more competitive than cooperative. Sometimes it's for fun: a family game of Monopoly, the church softball league, good-natured joking about whose car is shiniest or whose lawn the greenest. But some competition has an edge to it: Whose turn is it to do the dishes or buy gas? How come she got a bigger piece of cake than I did? Who will get the coveted promotion at work? A much smaller number of our interactions involve competition rather than cooperation.
Just a few interactions involve aggression: the driver who cuts us off; the person at work whose lying gets us into trouble unjustly; cutting remarks by relatives who do not understand why we are homeschooling. To be sure, these events tend to grab our attention and hold it, even though they're much rarer than cooperative or competitive ones. They can do a lot of damage, and we and our kids are better prepared to deal with the real world if we know how to anticipate, prevent, deflect, counter, and deal with such unfair and sometimes tragic episodes. But they are the minority, not the majority of our lives.
So doesn't it make sense to make sure we prepare our young children for the cooperative parts of their lives as well as the aggressive ones? For many children, attending a conventional school is such a harsh and challenging experience that it's difficult for even the most loving parents to repair the damage done to children before they are old enough to handle such challenges.
A Question We May Be Asked in the Future: How Does Homeschooling Prepare Children So Well For the Real World?
Perhaps some day the fact that homeschooling does prepare children for the real world will be acknowledged and maybe even applauded. Perhaps current critics of homeschoolers and casual observers will realize that what they might have thought at first glance was a weakness of homeschooling is actually a strength.
In the past, homeschoolers have been questioned and criticized for many things that we are now given credit for. For example, many doubted that children could learn outside of conventional schools without trained teachers. But thousands of homeschoolers have shown that they can, and the general public is impressed. Similarly, people used to wonder if homeschoolers could get into college and do the required work. Now colleges are actively seeking homeschoolers.
Perhaps at some point in the future, people will realize that children who are raised in a warm, cooperative, supportive environment by people who love them actually turn out better prepared for the real world than they would if they were sent at an early age to deal with strangers and large groups of their peers in a competitive and sometimes aggressive environment.
What We Can Do (Or, More Accurately, What We Are Already Doing and Might Do More Of)
• We can allow our kids to learn and grow in the shelter and safety of a warm, loving, supportive family. We can ignore the strong messages from the dominant culture that kids need to develop and demonstrate their independence by physical separation from their families as they attend daycare, preschool, conventional schools, etc. Many homeschoolers define independence not by physical distance but by the development of a clear sense of who you are, what you believe, and how you will act. Many families feel that the goal is not independence but interdependence: the ability to have healthy relationships, provide mutual support, and share life's joys and sorrows.
• We can offer our kids opportunities to observe and participate in the real world. Some of this happens automatically when we decide to homeschool--our kids spend their days in the real world and cannot avoid being exposed to the realities of adult life. We can increase and broaden their learning by providing opportunities for them to interact with people of varying ages and backgrounds and do real work at home and in the community.
• We can provide good role models, from both ourselves and other people, for healthy ways to deal with competition, aggression, and stress.
• We can have a positive attitude toward life ourselves and encourage our children to develop such a perspective. We can focus on things like the beauty of the natural world, the good that people do, religious or spiritual beliefs, and possibilities for the future. We can limit our family's exposure to the harsh, dramatic, and (some would say) inaccurate portrayal of violence, hatred, and tragedy in news programs and pop culture. Where injustice and tragedy do exist, we can take constructive action to counter them and support those who need help.
Does homeschooling prepare kids for the real world? Indeed it does. It enables kids to grow up strong and positive with the love and support of their families. It offers endless opportunities for kids to observe and participate in the real world. And it encourages families to develop a more positive perspective on the real world that opens countless doors for a lifetime of meaningful work, learning, and living. These opportunities are one more reason why families choose to homeschool, why homeschooling works, and why so many families are committed to maintaining the freedom and possibilities of homeschooling.
© 2011, Larry and Susan Kaseman