Today's Arizona Republic had a front page piece on school districts teaching via the Internet. While net education has its place, it lacks one of the most important things young people learn in school -- real interaction with other humans.
The traditional school setting provides an opportunity for more than classroom learning. It is where young people gain social skills. This is a lesson, it could be argued, that is the true basis for a successful life as an adult.
Very few of us out here in the "real world" live in a safe, non-challenging cocoon of just us and our computers.
You can be connected to the "outside" with a computer, interacting with people in chat rooms, etc. But the computer is a filter, giving us time to think before "reacting" with our computer responses and sign language.
Connecting in the real world means being face to face with people, reading them and knowing they are reading you too. In the real world there is immediacy and intimacy in communication. People can put their heads together and whisper confidences. Internet communications don't have that.
Among the benefits cited in the article was being able to learn at your own pace. That's nice, but life is not lived at our own pace. We have to adapt.
Learning at our own pace assures we learn the lesson, but at what cost? Learning at our own pace eliminates the challenge of keeping up with classmates, keeping up with school work in real time, being responsible.
An argument has been made that this kind of competition in learning is detrimental. Competition is a part of life: we work against the clock, we try to produce the product more people want to buy. Without competition, we can never know what our best truly is.
Certainly there are other opportunities for young people to get a social education and learn about competition, but most of those are in very controlled settings: church and club sponsored events, organized sports, and so on.
There is a benefit to the interaction on the playground, at the lockers between classes, in the school lunchroom.
The newspaper article included information about a family that was enrolling their six-year-old in cyberschool. When will this child learn the independence going to school gives?
The virtual classroom has its place and some students could benefit from it. But before a child is allowed to be enrolled in a program that eliminates, or at least drastically reduces their social contact with the outside world, a careful assessment should be made of that child and his or her home environment. It should be an assessment by professionals who know about child development.
Schools are very insulated environments already, sometimes making life in the real world a shock to young people venturing out on their own when they graduate. To give young people the opportunity to learn only via the Internet, isolating them even more, is to lay the groundwork for a serious struggle in adapting.
The Internet provides wonderful access to a tremendous amount of information, but it should be a supplement to classroom education not a replacement.