In December the Michigan State board of Education approved a plan to require all high school students to take at least one online course before they graduate in order to prepare them for online courses they might take on the college level.
Right now students would be able to use online non-credit ACT and SAT preparation courses to fulfill that requirement but one day the plan is to require students to actually take a real for-credit course online in order to graduate.
I have mixed feelings about online courses because while they can help bridge gaps in economic and social inequities — providing there is equal access to allow everyone to technologically tap into the courses — we are also cleaved from each other from the safety of our homes.
With the rise of video relay systems that allow real-time video conversation between groups of people, online courses will rise in popularity. You can login and watch lectures any time you wish and you can interact with all sorts of students beyond the physical limits of your school’s neighborhood. In many ways online courses are the great equalizer. Poor students in the urban core can interact with and learn from and teach fellow coursemates living afar who plan to attend Harvard or Stanford or the University of Michigan.
Students will quickly learn how their experiences and expertise stacks up in the grander scale of An American Education and that can only be a good thing because deficits will immediately be obvious and rectifiable. In other ways online courses make us less human and more technical.
We lose the warm touch. We lose the ability to see eyes and judge faces and whole-body language in person. We socialize ourselves and makes mistakes and create bonds during our mandatory schooling years and when the day comes when all schooling is done online — and it will happen on the elementary, high school and university levels — the testing of behavior against expectation is wholly diminished.
Total online schooling makes the most sense on the most precious community level: Money. Local school boards will no longer have to pay for school buildings or more than one teacher teaching a subject. If you can have one math teacher teaching all students in a district instead of 10, common sense and the bottom line mandates you will use one teacher — the best teacher — for all students.
The money-saving salve online education provides will dissolve school districts, cities and state borders as a common interest in a blanket education becomes the promise of the land. Why have one math teacher for 500 students when you could have one math teacher for the entire country? Federalization of all online schooling will become mandatory, homeschooling will be outlawed, curricula will be scrubbed and watered-down to serve the lowest common denominator, and students across the nation will have one instructor for one topic.
The nation will then finally have the means to truly standardize tests and pit child against child for national evaluation and the idea of “no child left behind” will begin to start making sense as something plausible and not political. Mandatory national online public education might just make the idea of “separate but equal” a good idea because all students will ultimately be exposed to access the same lessons.