Last week, the article “As More Schools Look to Personalized Learning, Teaching May Be About to Change” published in the official publication of The National Education Association, America’s largest teachers’ union, triggered a massive backlash from a segment of the membership dead set against the mere mention of online learning and curriculum, or the suggestion that it might offer students something even the best teachers can’t.
One opponent fired back: (This) is a movement… to further standardize and privatize America’s public schools.
However, in my experience, digital curriculum is the opposite of a standardized, one-size-fits-all education. As long as learning is initiated by the child.
That caveat is what strikes terror in the hearts of both sworn enemies like teachers’ unions, who have a vested interest in a system that retains them as exclusive gatekeepers, and online education providers, who want to democratize the delivery process to increase accessibility and equity, but still retain control of the process, much in the same way that teachers do.
I have written before about my middle child, who complains school isn’t teaching him what he wants to learn. He lingers after class to pepper his teacher with questions because, “She’s hiding the real science from me.”
So he turns to the internet. When I asked for a list of favorite sites that, in his opinion, aren’t hiding the real science – or anything else he wants to know about – from him, he offered:
And that’s only a partial list! My son learned his primary passion, computer programming, not via NYC’s tepid CS For All, but through online resources. He even aggregated the best links to help others. And then he used what he’d learned to build a tool to help kids study for all tests.
My son has been begging to drop out of school so he could learn on his own since third grade.
Too bad for him, I believe there is nothing more important than a good teacher. Great teachers are what made him capable of mastering the reading comprehension and vocabulary necessary to decipher the resources he later went looking for.
As another despised target of the teacher’s unions, Eva Moskowitz, Founder and CEO of the Success Academy charter school network, stressed when unveiling the Education Institute, an open source resource for educators to apply the Success model at their schools, “curriculum doesn’t teach kids. Teachers teach kids.”
And great teachers teach kids how to eventually teach themselves
I have absolutely no problem with, in the early years, forcing kids to learn subjects they insist they’ll never need, like (in my son’s case) geography, critical reading, composition, grammar and, yes, gym.
But that’s my choice. When we talk about school choice, we’re usually talking about a parent’s choices. Dealing with my now 13 year-old has made me cognizant that perhaps it’s time to bring kids into the conversation about what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.
But just like the battle between teachers’ unions and charter schools is unnecessary if what both ostensibly want is a great education for all (and not merely the chance to define what they personally think makes a great education and forcibly inflict it on others), so is the dichotomy between face-to-face and online learning.
The two should and can be complementary, focusing on teachers arming students with the skills they’ll need to pursue lifelong, deeper study in whatever area speaks to them.
Despite what some schools promise, it’s impossible to customize a curriculum for every child based on individual interests – unless you let the child take the lead and do it themselves.
Let’s give kids school choice, too. Even if that means going outside traditional models to get it