One of the things I’ve been wondering more and more as I’ve been reading and thinking at length about the recent wave of corporate and private (mostly online) inroads into education is what happens when it no longer is about the best schools for our kids but, instead, the best education service? As more and more choices and paths crop up for MY children to “get an education” that are not dependent on geography or place, what happens to that sense of community that currently comes with a local education?
I know that most online providers include some type of “blended” approach to their thinking. They understand that schools will not be going away any time soon, and so they have to combine the virtual and the physical in some way. But I can’t shake this feeling that given the competitive nature of the education game to begin with, there will be a lot of folks who will jump on the virtually personalized education bandwagon with little thought as to the effect on the larger community.
Diane Ravitch’s quote from a MisEducation Nation panel a couple of months ago brought it home for me even more:
But this is what I see as the next wave: demonize the public schools, create this marketplace where people think, instead of thinking of the common good, instead of thinking of community, instead of thinking what’s good for our children, we say, what’s in it for me? What about my child? Forget about your children, that’s your problem. My child. That’s market thinking…But the goal is to move away from public education as a public responsibility, like the fire department, like the police department, like public parks, like other kinds of public facilities. Privatize public education so that everyone becomes a consumer, children become products, and entrepreneurs can find lots and lots of money to be made. That is somehow going to make us globally competitive.
There is more than an ounce of truth in that, I fear. And that’s why I think we have a huge marketing job of our own to do when it comes to the value of schools, one that, so far at least, diverges clearly from the achievement-as-higher-test-scores narrative that most “providers” and vendors are selling.
I can’t stop asking, what do we mean by learning? By education? What are now the fundamental, powerful advantages to places and communities in a world where instruction and content and answers are a screen tap away?