After reading an interesting piece in the Dec. 5 issue of "The Nation" about the invasion of public schools by commercial virtual schools using computers and interactive television to teach children, I remembered something I saw in "Newsweek" four months after the Columbine shooting in Denver.
The "Newsweek" articles addressed what was wrong with our schools and the children attending them. The overwhelming consensus was the students’ best education experience in school came from a knowledgeable, caring and participating teacher. Students said they had been learning in front of a TV or computer screen for as long as they could remember and they were tired of it.
Now, however, there are lobbyists from the virtual-education industry trying to sell online charter schools. States hurting financially and struggling to fund their public education systems are reeling from the economic downturn and the parsimony of Republican state officials. Not only is this virtual-education industry going after the private-school market, but it is lobbying state governments to permit or create vouchers for their systems and methods in public schools. The notorious Republican governors of Wisconsin, Florida, Indiana and Idaho have already approved public funding.
The projected revenue for virtual-education companies will exceed $24 billion by 2015. In the longer view, this emerging business is looking at $1 trillion in public funding coming their way and into their pockets.
So, what’s the big deal with employing virtual technology for the education of our children? Well, the political right has been trying to unseat public education for almost 100 years. As recently as 1982, the Reagan administration tried to eliminate the Department of Education. It seems so-called conservatives have set their sights on teachers unions as the bad guy. Teachers are the lowest paid college-educated professionals — as a group — in the country, yet the conservative fiscal geniuses want to destroy their rights to bargain collectively, if not eliminate them altogether.
Furthermore, what happens to the curriculum when private enterprise is in charge? We’ve seen what a wonderful job private enterprise has done with health insurance. We’ve already seen across the nation that when religious organizations try to drive what children learn in school, the curriculum weakens. Why would virtual classrooms be any different; indeed, even more harmful?
Next, what about poor families that have no money to pay for this private enterprise? What kind of education will be left for their children? Will the government funds be used up in private enterprise without enough for the families that are less than rich?
I can’t help but view this commercial assault on the hallowed grounds of real teaching and learning as anything but a disaster.
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. "The Voter’s Guide to National Salvation" is a newly published e-book from Turner. You can find it at www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.