Thursday, May 7, 2009

Virtually Yours

There is an issue that's been poking around the local papers in my town for a few weeks now. It involves the notion of a charter school and the legitimate concern of some that students have needs that just can't be met in a traditional school setting. As an educator, I'm certainly sensitive to the variety of learning styles, degrees of emotional maturity, and the kinds of personal baggage all high school students bring with them.
It's called a virtual school. Child stays home, works mostly online, doesn't have to deal the pressures, difficulties, temptations, dangers, difficulties of a real school. Is a virtual school a legitimate educational option? I would argue no. How could it be?
I realize that leaves me standing with the evil, corrupt, unions, but here I'll stay. I get that traditional schools, often referred to as Brick and Mortar schools in this discussion, don't work for everyone. What concerns me is how people can glibly remove their children from the socialization of a school and truly believe they are doing the right thing by their kids. Especially since the "corporations" that are presenting this electronic curriculum can do so for profit. Of course we have no research to support any side of this issue. It's too soon. But I hope, when it comes pouring in, I'll be around to see it. I'm curious what kind of education is being provided-virtually. I can see the advantages; it's certainly a lot cleaner. I get that some of it is hands on, that young people can even "discuss" issues with people in various corners of this country online. But what happened to human interaction? What happened to talk in the classroom? How are ideas exchanged?
Most of it is all in writing. Nothing wrong with writing. But what happens when human beings do not encounter each other, do not work (in reality) with each other, do not literally speak to each other? How can anyone in their right mind think that this type of virtual education in any way is equivalent to anything remotely resembling the totality of an education?
I like that the debate has begun. It forces some folks to ask the important question about what it means to educate another human being. But I suspect some of the people who advocate the virtual model have other agendas. If we look at those who would argue that a child can be educated in isolation, at home, or on a computer, there is always something else lurking in the room. Virtual schools are the logical extension of technology in this young 21st century. Can't stop them, and I'm not sure I would want to. But it's troubling to think that educating another human being can become completely electronic.
Hopefully some day we'll get to hear from students who have experience with both models. Their thoughts will tell the tale--virtually.

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