Your Opinion on the Future of School Systems

Our school district is in the midst of severe budget cuts after a bond referendum failed in a November vote. The following is a guest editorial published in the Brainerd (MN) Dispatch Jan 18 that prompted me to consider, “How will we educate our children in the future?”

I want to hear what you think. I’ve posted the editorial below or you can go directly to the paper’s site (Please note, you will have to register.) Will you read it and join a discussion by answering the poll question at the bottom of this post and by leaving your comments below?

Change or get left behind

The Internet will sound the death knell for the mega-school dinosaur

The present school systems are big unwieldy dinosaurs and the educational planet is on a collision course with the asteroid of the Internet. The dinosaur school systems will, after a long struggle, become extinct.

A century ago transportation was primitive. It was the time of smaller schools staffed by teachers who often had two years of less of advanced education called “Normal Training.” It epitomized the concept that you don’t need an elaborate college education to teach the very young and when students get older they can learn by their own motivation.

As time passed, school boards were organized and parents lost control. Teachers and the school boards imposed stricter standards. Government got involved and imposed legal standards. The end result is a labyrinth of college degrees and testing to prove qualification.

Then came the teachers’ unions which required contracts, in-step raises, and higher costs. The unions became powerful and their desires were often written into law by malleable politicians.

With better transportation available it seemed appropriate to consolidate. This required a bus system and a whole new hierarchy of superintendents, principals, business administrators, secretaries, clerks and building maintenance staff. Costs skyrocketed.

The school systems began to increase their territory by initiating new subjects to be taught. Some of this was valid because of the increase in human knowledge.

Along with the school districts, and consolidated schools, came the concept of school sports, choirs, bands, etc. The so called “school spirit” was born. These endeavors were enthusiastically embraced by parents who wanted their children to experience the social advantages of these activities. The number of activities multiplied over time and schools became known for their excellence in sports rather than their educational excellence.

With the advent of the big school came the alienation of students from one another. Many students got lost in the crowd. In this “politically correct” mix came the repression of teaching morality which brought on a new array of social problems.

Costs went up again and eventually got so out of hand that the citizens revolted and many bond issues were voted down. The ailments of the dinosaur were noted by most everyone and alternatives such as “home schooling,” and on-line public schools such as “Connections Academy” will increasingly drain off more resources.

The asteroid of the Internet is now on the horizon and there will be huge impact that will sound the death knell for the mega-school dinosaur. Small educational centers will be instituted and flourish. Teachers unions and legislators will thwart the inevitable but eventually reason will prevail and the large schools will succumb.

The educational system will consist of students in relatively small groups at various locations with computerized curricula. “Facilitators” will be in charge instead of teachers. They will monitor the progress of the students and supervise on-line testing. There will be a central, highly competent, group of teachers in separate regional locations to explain difficult concepts by phone or on-line chatting. Progress of each student will be at the student’s pace with set requirements for graduation.

Sports, music, and the arts will survive and flourish, but they will return to community-based sponsorship by geographical areas.

The need for teachers and administration will be less and costs will dramatically come down. The smaller units will be naturally more self-governing and the elaborate physical plants will be obsolete. Transportation will also be a less costly problem.Students will feel an affinity for the small group setting and make lasting relationships. Parents will feel much more like participating in these local student bodies.

It behooves school boards and administrators to get on board and help to facilitate the transition to the Internet based on local educational centers. It is a matter of cooperating or getting left behind!

CHARLES A. HAGBERG of Crosby has has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from North Dakota State and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

How will the Internet change education?

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5 Comments

  1. Minna
    Jan 24, 2008

    I don’t really know where to start in response to this article…
    I feel like there are a lot of holes. I know I voted “other” and to leave a comment but now I think I should get back to you on this one. Schools are a BIG topic.

  2. TJ
    Jan 24, 2008

    Good, Minna, your perspective to see the holes in this article is important to a discussion. When you have a chance to think them through, tell me one or two of those holes . . .

  3. eh
    Jan 27, 2008

    I kind of like the idea of school on the Internet, but I have the feeling it would limit social experiences. The school I go to now gives me a wide selection of people that I can be friends with and they’re from all over. When he says “The educational system will consist of students in relatively small groups at various locations with computerized curricula.” Yeah, it may be fun to have smaller classes, but I like having a wide variety of friends. Maybe I’m going social, but I also like the academic side of it. Having smaller classes means I could focus more on the things I need to accomplish. It’s hard to do that in a big class.

  4. H
    Jan 31, 2008

    There should be no question that parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children. This learning experience is built upon and expanded by the teacher in the classroom. While the internet and other forms of technology are important resources, they, like the textbook and the glass beaker in the chemistry lab, are only tools. It is the parent, the teacher and the sudent who uses these tools to enhance the learning process.
    In addition to helping the student gain information and knowledge, the teachers and parents teach children the proper use of these tools (resources) in the process of critical thinking, i.e. how to apply the knowledge gained.

    For the author of the article to place the blame for the ills of the school system on teachers is patently wrong. Not only is he missing the target, he is shooting at the wrong target! As a former educator, I know first hand that teachers have little or no voice in what classes will be offered nor do they have a voice in determining what activites or sports will be offered. Teachers have no voice in deciding how many classes will be held nor the number of sudents in each class. Teachers have no voice in what buildings will be built (or closed) or what facilities those buildings will contain. Teachers have no voice in consolidation or disolution of schools. All of these decisions are made by school boards and administrators.

    Do our school systems need to be changed and revamped? Clearly, the answer is, “yes.” In doing so, however, we must ask ourselves, “what are our priorities?” Let us remember that it is the parent and the teacher who teaches; not the building, not the administrator, not the school board and not any government agency.

  5. DoD
    Feb 6, 2008

    I see the article as brave new world hogwash. The internet fails in many of the same ways that homeschooling fails. 1)Lack of interaction with a number of different teachers who inspire, challenge, and direct down varying paths. 2)Lack of social reality where students learn to deal with bullies, brats, geniuses, scammers, flirts, heart thumpers and the like. 3)Lack of the true motivator of innovation–namely competition. And, 4)Expectation that technocrats can satisfy the first three failings.
    The goal needs to be complete preparation of the indivitual in an environment of free choice. And no, it is not the same for all.
    The only viable model for the future of education is a choice based system such as vouchers where neither means nor diversity are tested. The problem lies in the power currently vested in the very organizations we relied upon to provide us with solutions and accountability. Until control is wrested from the clenched fists of the education unions and false idealogies (like the glories of diversity, or the impending doom of global warming) we will continue down fruitless paths such as expecting the internet to become a vehicle of social experience or inspiration.

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