Column 2017-10 (3/27/17)
New ideas don't instantly catch on. Many people reject new ideas without even considering their merit. New equals bad is an old formula. Some of the most vocal opponent's of the new are individuals who have a vested interest in the old.
The opponents of twenty-first century learning do have vested interests in our antiquated school system. Many of them are living well off the old system. They fear that a real step forward for learning would leave them behind. They are willing to sacrifice the children to sustain the obsolete district schools.
This was on full display in Detroit last year as the Luddites of our times fought to force escaped students back into the failed district schools. More than half of the students living in Detroit have left the district schools.
Schools should serve the students, not consume them to sustain the failed schools a bit longer. I doubt that "sacrifice the children to save the district schools" will ever be a popular rallying cry.
Defenders of district schools whine that charter schools aren't accountable. This is a garbage claim. The accountability of charter schools could be improved. Still, they are far more accountable than district schools.
The real complaint on behalf of district schools is that charter schools provide another choice. That choice makes district schools more accountable to those whom they serve.
All service providers should be accountable to those they serve. Then they must serve their customers well, or close up shop. Being ruled by unaccountable bureaucrats, who often don't know or care what consumers want, is fake accountability.
It takes extra effort for parents to have their children in charter schools. If the charter school doesn't deliver, it will lose its customers. That is real accountability. No bureaucrats needed. Of course bureaucrats hate it.
Our present school system has its roots in the nineteenth century. It was embellished a bit during the twentieth century. Now Common Core seeks to preserve the fossil forever. The system is based on dividing students in to herds by age. Those herds are then driven through the system for 13 years. It is all about the herd, not the individual.
Inevitably the system aims for mediocrity, and usually falls short. One size fits all doesn't fit anybody. The faster students are held back and bored. Commonly the lack of any challenge leads to bad study habits.
The slower students are trampled by the herd and left behind. Not everyone has the same ability in all subjects. They may be bored in some classes while being left behind in others. Not all students need the same body of knowledge as others. The system doesn't care. In fifth grade, learn fifth grade stuff because you are in fifth grade.
It is long past time to lay grade numbers to rest and build curriculum to fit students. Forget about forcing students to march through a curriculum that probably doesn't fit anyone. Cyber learning can liberate students from slavery to the rigidity of grade numbers and one size fits all lesson plans. All we need do is let it happen.
Computers can continuously measure where the student is at and lead him to the next step. When the student masters a segment he can move on to the next one, instead of marking time with busy work. It won't matter that others are progressing at different paces. What matters is that all will be progressing. What the student learns is far more important than how fast he learns it.
Not all students will be suited to full scale cyber learning. Most will benefit greatly from it. Next time I will endeavor to provide a thumbnail sketch of of some of the advantages of cyber learning.
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Albert D. McCallum