It’s not difficult to explain or understand, I suppose, that a child’s first real heroes are going to be the teachers who bring life to letters and numbers, who help construct and deconstruct sentences, who lead the procession from classroom to lunchroom to playground and back again.

A teacher is a child’s first meaningful exposure to the real world, and if the child is lucky, those first teachers are kind, benevolent souls who love their jobs and treat each child as one of their own.

As parents, we expect no less.

Success, knowledge, strength, love: All are emotions you’ll find in the typical classroom in a typical school during a typical day.

Of course, as our children struggle to find their place in an often-indifferent world, school also produces those first never-to-be-forgotten feelings of inadequacy, failure and heart-rending pain that naturally come with the process.

Those years in school, particularly those first years in school, bring forth every emotion imaginable – often in the same day. Pain never hurts as much as joy is never quite as sweet as when they are first experienced. And those first lessons they teach are never stamped on a more impressionable tablet.

Standing by not so silently during these tumultuous days are parents, bound on one hand to want what’s best for their children and on the other, sworn to protect those who cannot yet protect themselves.

And at one time or another, everything about school runs counter to those protective instincts. The very act of enrolling our children in school is little more than setting them up for pain and heartbreak.

The great melting pot of education can’t help but force children to question their beliefs as they learn to deal with others who don’t share the same values and don’t believe the same things and don’t hold the same things dear.

And that’s the great value of education outside the home.

There comes a time in every life when the training wheels come off, the parents are dismissed, and the bike ride begins. Few of us skip the wobbling and go straight to top speed.

As a parent, isn’t it better to be available those first, wobbly days of youth rather than observe them, helpless, from afar as they occur later in life?

I don’t mean to condemn those who homeschool; in fact, I think you’ll find this month’s cover story reflects their view of the world and leaves their conclusions open to much-needed discussion and soul-searching.

But I can’t see how sheltering a child from the real world is the same as protecting him.

For no matter how much we may fight it, those days when peers displace parents and teachers as heroes will arrive as surely as that first day of school each fall.