It had been a long, hot and muggy Chicago summer. I was the principal of a private school that had decided to move to a new building, and I had spent countless hours...
I always teach my kids never to call anyone stupid. So you’ll have to excuse me for my language when I ask, “How stupid can they be?” No, I’m not referring to my kids, I’m referring to all those who are riding the wave of the newest craze, virtual education.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal outlines the growing popularity of the cyber school, citing that nation wide an estimated 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools and more than 2 million take at least one class online. Some companies who run public cyber schools claim to have doubled enrollment in the past 2 years, as many states are joining the trend and are encouraging (or on a limited basis, even requiring) online education.
What are they thinking? Was it that our children did not already spend way too much time plugged into their computers or Blackberries, that we now have to find a way to increase their detachment and estrangement from authentic human contact? A few short years ago, many schools shunned mobile phones or handheld video games in the school building in order to ensure that children actually spoke to one another or learned how to navigate complex social interactions. How ironic that now the electronic world gains its sweet revenge as it seeks to shun the school building!
Yes, it is true that economic realities may justify such radical thinking (in some cases budgets of cyber schools are 60% less than traditional institutions), however, the trend towards equating the value of the virtual educational experience to that of a live classroom is troubling, and demands serious reflection.
While it is easy to rant against those who champion the cyber school, traditionalist must look inwards and ask why people are leaving their schools? Perhaps parents are willing to forgo the advantages of social interaction if schools are not adequately addressing issues of bullying. The obvious gain of having a live teacher may be offset by overcrowded classrooms in which the student’s individual needs are not being met. The excitement created by a really cool computer generated learning experience will easily trump a boring teacher who flamed out years ago but continues teaching nonetheless.
As always, the solutions we seek may be much closer than we think. The easiest way to successfully buck the destructive trend towards virtual education may be to improve our schools and enhance the quality of our classrooms.