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The “Real World” Fallacy

The American institution of public schooling is considered one of our greatest strengths–but why?  What is the purpose of schools, and why do we force our children to attend them?  The response you’ll most often hear is that school prepares our students for the task they must all ultimately undertake of being successful, responsible adults–that’s what we usually mean by the term education.  Yet there is an odd contradiction implicit in this attitude: if the purpose of education is to prepare children for the “real world”, then why do we need schools?  It’s generally understood that the schools themselves are not the “real world”, so they must necessarily be artificial worlds: invented realities designed to shelter our children from the responsibilities of adulthood until they are “ready” for them.  It is no great secret that experiential learning is by far the most effective kind, yet the fierce irony of preparing our children for the “real world” by sequestering them from it entirely goes apparently unnoticed.  This idea of preparing our children to be adults by treating them like anything but–what I call the “real world” fallacy–is a perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong with our current way of thinking about school, education, and children in general.
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