Friday, March 09, 2007


(News-Herald, March 8)
I work in a public school. And I work in public education because I believe in public education, not the other way around.

There has been more squawking lately about cyberschooling. You will not be surprised to learn that I have an opinion.

Cyberschools have vocal defenders, and some of them have good and valid points to make. Traditional public education has a tragic inclination toward a one-size-fits-all model, and the No Child Left Standing meddling of the federal gummint has only made that particular problem worse. If I were the parent of young children right now, what would trouble me most about putting them in public school is that most school districts are either unable to protect their students from politically-based idiocy or simply unwilling to even try.

There are some real needs that cyberschooling can fill. Most obviously I think of all the students over the years who became ill and, because they were bedridden, missed a year of school. With computer technology, there’s no reason for that to ever happen again.

There are students, particularly in smaller districts, who could have cyber-access to exciting specialized learning opportunities. Cyberschooling could be a good supplement to “regular” schooling. Having a variety of available options has to be a good thing.

There are also some real needs that cyberschools don’t help in the slightest.

A student who opts out of regular school because he finds it hard to put up with a regimented day and the imposition of teachers telling him to do stuff often fails to thrive when put in a situation where there is no regimen at all. If all of your work is due “whenever you get around to it,” it takes a lot of self-discipline to stay on track. And if you had that sort of self-discipline in the first place, school wouldn’t be all that hard to put up with.

As with home-schooling, I regret the loss to the school community. If all the best trumpet players are at home, the school music program and all the students in it suffer. Ditto for writing programs, science programs, etc.

I believe that one of the values of public schools is that it puts a wide variety of young people together in a small community, gives them the chance to learn how to cope, to struggle, to work out differences, or to stand up for those differences against the crowd.

I think it’s ironic that Pastors are among the many home- and cyber- school boosters. I suspect that if their parishioners came to them and said, “You know, I’m not going to come to church any more because some of the people are hard to get along with, I don’t like the pews, and I think I can best meet my worship needs at home,” the pastoral reply would not be so supportive.

Additionally, cyberschools, like school voucher programs, disenfranchise whole chunks of the community. As a taxpayer, you may think that your local district spends too much on frivolous waste (like teacher salaries) or not enough on important essentials (like teacher salaries), but either way, there are elected officials who have to take your phone calls and win your votes. They are accountable to all the taxpayers in all decisions.

But parents who cyberschool are accountable to nobody. If they decide to take your tax dollars out of the school district to pay for their child’s cybereducation, you don’t get to say a single word about it.

And cyberschools themselves are barely accountable. Are the students learning? Who’s to say. Some parents are enormously, completely, painstakingly responsible in monitoring their cyberlearners. And others wave “Seeya honey—go get smart today” on their way out the door. Nobody is watching to see which are which. Apparently, the state doesn’t even have anyone auditing cyber school financial books.

Cyberschoolers have a variety of responses to these criticisms. They say cyberschool doesn’t take that much money away from schools (it does), and taking the student out of the school reduces district costs (it doesn’t). The most common internet argument boils down to “It’s my kid, so I should get to educate him however I want.”

That’s wrong, too. Education is not a service provided for parents alone. Employers, neighbors and fellow citizens all depend on the products of public education. And cyberparents are wrong to make the argument in the first place.

If they ever manage to drive home the point, “It’s my kid’s education, so it’s nobody else’s business what I do” the next voice in the conversation will be the throngs of retirees replying, “Fine. If it’s all about you, YOU pay for it.”

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