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The Coming Educational Divide

September 15, 2011

I see a future in our country where only the elite or the fringe will be allowed the luxury of sitting in a classroom being taught face-to-face.

A recent article in Education Week points to Idaho as the latest state to mandate online courses (two) for its high school students. The Idaho state legislature mandated that high school students take at least two online courses or they will not be allowed to graduate.

Idaho a bastion of statists? Really? Idaho a place where people believe the government knows better than local school boards what their students need? Really? Idaho a trailblazer, along with three other pro-government states Alabama, Florida, & Michigan?

In doing some further research on the topic, I came across this excellent New York Times article. The article shed some light on the confusing fact that fiercely anti-government states like Idaho and Alabama are accepting heavy-handed government educational mandates: “K-12 online learning is championed by conservative-leaning policy groups that favor broadening school choice.” So these more conservative-leaning groups like the idea of taking control away from the tired, corrupt teachers with their unionized disincentives.

I understand the frustration with our education system, and there is no doubt that reform is needed. However, I think it is important to point out a universal truth about technology: the long-term impact (positive & negative) of a technology is never foreseen (see Twitter). School systems like the one in Memphis (mentioned in the NYT article) who are increasing graduation rates by enabling “credit recovery” through online courses will be losers in the end. Their quality of education has started down a path of deterioration, and it will take a miracle to reverse the trend.

There is a toxic combination of elements coming together to creat the Coming Educational Divide. They are:

  • Chronic poor performance in many school – low graduation rates, high drop out rates. This leads to desperation and looking to technology to solve the problem. The psychological term for this mentality is “magical thinking.” Indeed, magic and technology share many similarities, and have similarly dazzled people for eons.
  • Growing acceptance of corporate interests infiltrating the schools. Everything from for-profit charter schools (extremely mixed results) to iPads in kindergarten classrooms, points to corporate creep in the classroom. Yes, Apple knows the best way to expand their U.S. market is to get younger customers, so they convince teachers and schools (via free iPads) that the iPad is an awesome tool for teaching.
  • Struggling state governments. This is the biggie. As states struggle with their budgets, they are looking for ways to cut costs. With magical thinkers saying “technology is the best way to learn,” big business saying “we’ll make it worth your while,” and voters saying “fix our educational system,” how can state governments possibly resist moving online? Always follow the money trail.

When I say that I see a future when only the élite and the fringe will experience the luxury of sitting in a classroom and learning face-to-face, I am dead serious. I’m not talking next year or even ten years from now, but if you cast your mind 30 years down the road, or maybe 50 years, it is not hard to imagine a day when public schools will be entirely online. Only the wealthy will have the rare privilege of sitting face-to-face with brilliant teachers and interacting with them about their field of study. The divide will begin in higher education and work its way down to grammar school. But nobody will mind too much. It’ll seem normal, everyone in their pods with their headphones on staring at screens.


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One Comment
  1. Scary. I say we get rid of FEDERAL educational mandates and return the oversight of education to the local governing entity. That is a start. When online modalities are more economical you can be sure that they will become more prevalent – and they should be. That is what a market does. While it will be a successful “business” in that way, it will not produce educated constituents. Isn’t that convenient? There is nothing new under the sun… (not even iPad)…. there is NO SUBSTITUTE for reading, discussing, and the PERSONAL involvement of another human being in passing down what it means to be a human being.

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