Wednesday, August 17, 2011

S.C. Policy Council eschews schools, promotes online education

In the world imagined by the good folks at the South Carolina Policy Council, public education in South Carolina's future will be double-plus-good, without all the trouble of teachers and schools. In the coming world, education will be a matter of turning on your viewscreen and following instructions.

This pleasant, almost anesthetic, note was published by the Charleston Post and Courier a couple of weeks ago under the title "Online learning uplifting, efficient":

Imagine a public education system able to provide access to high-quality instruction, regardless of where a student lives.

Imagine this being read to you in Rod Serling's voice.

Imagine schools able to give individualized instruction to potential dropouts. Or course offerings that encourage students to master their studies, instead of simply show up for class. In fact, this vision for the state's public school system already exists; it's called online learning.

High school students who have read not only Orwell but Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" will pick up the theme here.

We need no teachers in this new world. We need only our view screen. And our instructor's voice.

As such, it represents a way our schools can move beyond many of the traditional limitations of a brick-and-mortar classroom and connect with students on a one-to-one basis.

Or, on a one-to-one hundred basis. Or one-to-one thousand. In cyberspace, no one can hear you counting.

And these goals are accomplished without having to build more brick-and-mortar schools.

Brick-and-mortar are old-world concepts, employed before those with knowledge of mass media and profit motives brought their philosophies and technologies to bear in training pliant workers.

In olden days, education was a dirty, ragged affair. Children were induced to come to places called schools. There, live teachers with degrees and certificates from physical colleges and universities stood in classrooms with walls, sometimes in laboratories with lab stations, or in libraries with paper-and-ink books, and interacted -- and guided dialogues interactively -- with students in person.

That system was inefficient, and tens of millions of American students were graduated from those schools with institutional deficiencies. This is why America struggled in vain to remain a viable nation through its first two centuries.

All of that is changed now.

Thanks to online learning, targeted, individualized instruction that focuses on concrete academic progress is replacing mere "seat-time."

Online learning is double-plus-good.

It has worked well with at-risk students, students in urban and rural areas, gifted students, and those with special needs.

Everyone will learn through online learning. It is double-plus-good.

In olden days, students in schools interacted with one another in person, face-to-face, breathing the same air and occupying the same rooms. But those rooms were inefficient learning spaces, as they were cleaned and maintained by live workers, and heated and cooled according to the seasons by machinery and energy paid for by public tax revenues. Online learning provides exactly the same interaction without the threat of communicable disease or the need to share space or air. It is double-plus-good.

It also offers diverse opportunities for social interaction -- for instance, through sports clubs, homeroom clusters, and academic field trips. Just as important, it teaches students to master new social communication tools that are revolutionizing the way we work, learn and live.

This is how we live today. Just as we no longer must interact with undesirables in public places, supermarkets, bookstores, theaters or resort hotels, we no longer have to interact with undesirables in school settings.

Online learning is also no longer at the untested, theoretical level -- it's already a reality. South Carolina currently has five online public charter schools, with a sixth scheduled to open this year.

Indeed, it is double-plus-good.

And it is effective, not only at avoiding people of a lower caste.

Success and completion rates are also very high, with nearly 90 percent of students passing their chosen online course.

It is double-plus-good, and it will work for you. It is also cost-effective.

And while online learning shouldn't be thought of as a cost-free way to run public education, it is, in fact, cost-effective.

Without the costs of so many live instructors facilitating instruction through hands-on learning and group dialogue, and brick-and-mortar schools to facilitate learning through interpersonal and group interaction, online learning is cost-effective. It costs less, and is double-plus-good. It will work for you. You will become successful through online learning.

Per pupil costs at the state's virtual charter schools are at least 25 percent lower than at traditional public schools.

Online learning is cost-effective. You will become successful through online learning. No one wants to associate with undesirables, people of a lower caste. Everyone wants online learning.

Demand for online learning is growing, and it's easy to see why.

Everyone deserves online learning. It is not a luxury. It is cost-effective and double-plus-good. Policymakers must be made to understand.

The danger is that policymakers will think of online learning as a kind of luxury -- an educational option that's helpful for many students, but one that doesn't merit the same kind of support as traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

Brick-and-mortar schools are dirty and cost a lot. They force students to associate with undesirables and people of lower castes. Their graduates are defective. Online learning isn't a luxury; it is double-plus-good and will work for you. It is a right that everyone wants.

But online learning isn't a luxury. It's an essential part of the solution to our educational challenges -- and an additional parental choice in a system that desperately needs it.

You will become very successful through online learning.

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