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It’s Time to Replace Schools with Learning Opps for Everyone

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By Linda Dobson

We can only guess if there was an equal amount of consensus against schooling before the Internet and social media. Regardless, today that consensus is obvious. The once lone voices of homeschool advocates sharing “a better way” are joined today by students, parents, journalists and, yes, even sometimes teachers who are still tolerating the government school system. A series of podcasts titled “School Sucks” has 1500+ fans on Facebook. S.C.H.O.O.L (the acronym standing for either 6 or 7 Crappy Hours of Our Lives depending, I guess, on where one lives) has 682,719 and 833,911 Facebook fans respectively.

GirlScreamingThe transparency of consensus regarding a broken system comes at a time when budgets associated with “the old-fashioned” brick and mortar schools and their overwhelming (and ever-increasing) costs have become unsustainable for un- and under-employed taxpayers. So many pink slips for teachers, administrators, and other support staff are flying around the country’s schools I wish I’d invested in a pink paper company’s stock. With the “way it always was” going broke and the natives getting increasingly restless, it’s time to seriously consider how we will replace “school” with learning opportunities for all.

Ever more voices are entering the fray on this idea, and they’re all using the same two words – online learning. Sunday’s Washington Post ran “Traditional Schools Aren’t Working. Let’s Move Learning Online” by Katherine Mangu-Ward, a senior editor at Reason magazine.

There’s no arguing with her examples of how technology has changed our society: the way we shop, find information, keep up with friends, and enjoy music.

But kids remain stuck in analog schools. Part of the reason online education hasn’t taken off is that powerful forces such as teachers unions — which prefer to keep students in traditional classrooms under the supervision of their members — are aligned against it.

Mangu-Ward’s article is lengthy, but it’s a good read for anyone concerned about what we might do before the existing system crumbles, instead of waiting until after. Here’s a piece to whet your appetite:

But just as most Americans disapprove of congressional shenanigans while harboring some affection for their own representative, parents tend to say that their child’s teacher is pretty good. Most people have mixed feelings about their own school days, but our national romance with teachers is deep and long-standing. Which is why the idea of kids staring at computers instead of teachers makes parents and politicians extremely nervous.

However, it’s time to take online education seriously — because we’ve tried everything else. Education Secretary Arne Duncan debuted his Blueprint for Reform this month to mixed reviews, joining at least 30 years’ worth of government officials who have promised that this time, honest, they’re going to fix education. Even the reforms promoted by the much-ballyhooed federal Race to the Top funds, which are supposed to encourage innovative educational practices, offer mostly marginal changes to the status quo. In an early March speech on technology in education, Duncan touted $500 million in new federal spending over 10 years to develop post-secondary online courses — an area of online education already thriving without federal assistance — thus arriving at the dance 15 years late and an awful lot more than a dollar short.

Some readers who commented on Mangu-Ward’s article mentioned that government has a way of fouling the works and shouldn’t be involved in attempts to transform from school to learning opportunities. On that front, we receive good news from Judy Breck of Handschooling.com:

The White House proposals called the American Graduation Initiative (AGI) were dropped from the package of education spending that was folded into the health reconciliation bill that has now been passed by Congress and signed by the President. The education legislation, which moved the student loan program into federal control, was not debated in Congress. The AGI was dropped from the legislation during cost-cutting closed-door sessions where Democrats and Obama picked and chose where federal taxpayer education dollars would go.

I am convinced that the stoppage here of federal management of online courses is a lucky break for long term open learning. Not having the feds doling out dollars to set up infrastructures they approve will let network laws and unrestricted innovation emerge the global knowledge commons  — instead of messing it up big time as bureaucrats tend to do.

I realize there is disappointment in the open educational resources (OER) community over losing $500M for OER. Yet the excerpt below from the proposed AGI scares me about the future openness of online learning with the federal government doing what it describes. Won’t content be overseen in Washington? Who decides which community colleges distribute or use the courses? These are taxpayer dollars; would the courses be openly online? Why the departments of Labor and Defense?

Please visit Handschooling.com to read the excerpt.

Before wrapping up for today, there’s one more piece to throw into the mix; an article published at Salon.com titled “’DIY U’: The End of University Prestige” by Jed Lipinski.

CartoonGirlonComputer

Jed interviews Anya Kamenetz about her book, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. In summary, “Kamenetz doesn’t advocate leaving the university behind, but she envisions a future where the 80 percent of American college students who attend non-selective schools (mainstream public universities and community colleges) create their own personalized course of study. Some American universities are already making classes available for free online, and using blogs, YouTube, Facebook and, yes, Twitter, to move toward this new model for higher education.”

Jed ends his article stating, “A whole DIY movement — exemplified by sites like Boing Boing — comes from people going online to learn about something, going offline and trying it out, and then going back online to report what they did.”

Parents, please read, and then imagine the possibilities. And then I’d like to add; if you offer all of this to your child via the family-centered existence of homeschooling? Priceless.

Thanks for reading, and please share this with another Parent at the Helm or three that you know. Let’s all think about this together! Thanks!

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