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Drop The Teacher. Can Our Children Learn Exclusively Online?

Let’s get right to the subject.

A lot of parents are having the same feelings: Could they pull their child from school and have them learn just from the internet alone?

As you know, parents are frustrated.

Can you blame them?

Now, we have “Education Reform” books crowding Amazon’s top ten lists right along with Fifty Shades of Grey.

Education reform is hot!

Anyway. The alternative is simple: Pull lil’ Johnny and lil’ Suzi from school and plug them into the matrix (internet of course).

Khan Academy will surely turn them into an astronaut.

Wikipedia will make them the next Ben Franklin.

And YouTube will … um, let’s keep the kids clear of YouTube.

You get my point.

Is the internet the solution to our frustrations?

It’s not that easy. The overabundance of information is one obstacle to overcome.

Now, just because there’s too much information doesn’t mean the alternative is no internet at all.

You see, there’s this perception, if you have this huge body of knowledge like Wikipedia, people everywhere will become smarter because of it.

(I’m sure that perception also existed when the first encyclopedias became available at home).

And since this hasn’t happened, we think, “Aha! This proves people essentially can’t learn on their own.”

And who are you to question the status quo?

Well, you should question it.

This article by John Taylor Gatto let’s you know why.

But then you hear about progressive schools like Montessori. Where a student’s individual capabilities are assessed and then each child builds their own learning path.

I’ve seen a product of these schools (an amazing little 8 year old girl).

But you know what?

Her parents are very active in her education.

If they didn’t need to go to work to pay the bills, I believe, she would be just as successful schooled from home. Online.

But, as you probably know, the internet makes it impossible for a child to know where to start. And it’s not Facebook.

In other words, the internet would need to be curated by someone.

“Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company” – John Taylor Gatto Retweet

Are parents up for this job?

Isn’t that what schools do for our kids, they curate information. Right?

Listen, smart people have already thought about homeschooling. And they’ve created avenues for young students to access full curricula―to be able to study exclusively online.

Check out Johns Hopkins University and their K-12 online courses.

Parent + Internet = Efficient Teaching?

Do most parents love their child? I think so.

Do most parents care if their child is educated? Sure.

Are some parents uncomfortable disciplining? Hmm.

What’s the point of this? Glad you asked.

I think, there are parents who’d prefer to avoid the negativity associated with disciplining. And a lot of teaching is creating a disciplined environment.

It may be more comfortable leaving the teaching to the “professionals”.

But don’t be intimidated if you’re not a “teacher”.

It seems to me the real hurdle is effort.

Get this. We’re living in a time when 54% of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television.

The average child (in the US) spends 24 hours a week watching TV.

That’s A LOT of time to tap into.

Keep reading, this is important.

Dad and the curse of knowledge

Let me share a personal story.

My Father had ZERO patience.

Our homework time would end with me in tears.

He didn’t realize that sometimes giving me some space (to reflect) would be a good thing.

I think he felt personally responsible if I didn’t understand something―as if it was the fault of his explanations.

As a result, sometimes he pushed too hard.

In fact, my father suffered from the “curse of knowledge”. Something Dan and Chip Heath discuss in their book How to Make it Stick.

The Heath brothers say the minute you learn a task, you’re almost unable to put yourself back into the mindset of somebody who did not know how to execute that task—that’s why so many of us are such poor teachers.

So, I forgive you Dad.

But my Father didn’t have access to tutorials for 6 year olds struggling with math. You do.

The internet as a supplemental resource

Now, there are factors that contribute to learning online. And learning in general.

We’ve seen things, like the Khan Academy, working well when it is used with classroom instruction.

And, that’s what Khan is doing right now, he is engaging with schools.

The goal isn’t to eliminate schools. Because that structured environment and peer support is actually very beneficial (plus most parents can’t afford to stay home with their kids).

What schools are doing is using Khan Academy as an education and homework supplement. Maybe it’s being used even more than that―but you get my drift.

Remember what I said about my Dad? You do. Good.

Unlike my Father, today’s parents can tap into internet resources to keep the learning happening at home.

You and I both have access to teachers who are fluent in Algebra. And who are giving tutorials (FOR FREE).

You know what’s cool? Now child and parent can view several approaches to the same problem and choose the one that feels most natural―the one that makes most sense.

The point is this. It’s less intimidating if you have direction (a learning goal).

Determining what is relevant―at what stage―is important.

Your child could be left to determine this on their own, or with the help of a teacher, but parents should not be afraid to jump in.

It’s better than doing nothing. And you’re not alone.

Resources to get you started

Classroom 2.0
The social network for those interested in Web 2.0, Social Media, and Participative Technologies in the classroom.

Johns Hopkins University: CTYOnline
Each year, thousands of students in Pre-K to 12, from more than 60 countries, enroll in CTYOnline, CTY’s unique distance learning program that offers challenging courses throughout the year.

Learn in Freedom!
It shows you how to use your own initiative in learning, so you can use schools and teachers just when they are helpful to you, and voluntarily chosen by you.

Khan Academy
A not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.

BC Homeschool Association
The BC Home School Association is a registered society in the Province of British Columbia endeavoring to inform, support and encourage families choosing to provide their child with a home based education.

The bottomline

You have choice in the kind of environment your child is educated in.

Children should be aware of (and get) the support they deserve.

You can take action regardless of your own experience.

Now here’s what I want you to do…

As you know, I spent quite a lot of time writing this article for you to reflect on.

If you could help me out by sharing it on Twitter or Facebook, I would appreciate it… a lot!

Also, have you had any experiences with home schooling? Or have you used the internet as a homework resource? Leave a comment.

(Note, if this is your first time here, make sure you sign up for the email list. You don’t want to miss out on this content.)

Share your thoughts with others

 

  • Ashley Williams

    Wow! This is a lot to take in. I can’t say we should “Drop the teacher” but the resources you provided are excellent. I have some reading to do. Thanks Anna!

    • Anna Sabramowicz

      Hi Ashley, thank you! I hope you let me know what you think about the John Taylor Gatto article. :)
      I’ve definitely grown up in a different world, and my school experience was so positive I wanted to be a teacher myself. A lot of my friends had the totally opposite experience. School was a painful, dull experience for them.

      I want to see what can be done, with the resources we have at hand. Then, examine this subject objectively, realistically, and see how the situation can be improved.

      Take care,
      Anna

  • Leah Davies

    There are lots of options out there. The ONE extremely important key to educating our children is parental interest and involvement.

    • Anna Sabramowicz

      Hi Leah! Thank you for contributing here!
      So part of the issue might be that there are too many options, parents don’t know where to get started? Also, there’s got to be a balance I think. If a child spends a big chunk of their day at school, there is an expectation they’ve spent that time getting a solid base that a parent can continue on at home.

      I have to say that my situation was a little bit different, my mom was interested, but English was a third language for her and it was very difficult for her to help me with any of the homework I brought home. I had to translate a lot of my assignments to her, to get her help – which now, in retrospect, might have been really good for me. :)

      Take care,
      Anna

  • Margaret Ashley

    Interesting article that has some very good points to consider and resources to explore.

    The title you chose of “Drop the Teacher – Can Children Learn Exclusively Online is catchy for sure. One that has two sides. Yes they can learn exclusively online academically since academics tend to focus on facts and figures and the internet is the biggest “encyclopedia” of facts and figures the world has ever known.” Can you “Drop the Teacher” – that depends how you define “teacher”. In the traditional sense of a person standing in front of a class in lecture format to disseminate information, yes. But drop the teacher to learn completely online – no – even Khan academy, Classroom 2.0 and the other resources you mention have “teachers” that are presenting the information”, just in more innovative manners.

    The most important things we need to succeed in life aren’t taught in school to begin with whether that’s delivered online or off. Life skills, critical thinking skills, adaptability skills, communication skills, reframing failure/trauma skills, listening skills, creativity, innovation, initiative, financial literacy, stress reduction techniques, managing emotions, calming techniques, developing strong work ethics, character development, understanding and compassion for others etc are not things we learn in school. As wonderful as the resources you mention are, none of them are addressing those skills. They are all still focused on facts and figures, not life skills with real life relevancy.

    Getting a quality education isn’t about where it takes place, what resources are used, or who teaches you what. It’s about what you learn, how you process that information to move you forward in your life learning to think things through to the end so you make choices that are right for you to accomplish the objectives in life that are meaningful to you and you alone. Education is simply preparation to apply knowledge in meaningful ways. How that knowledge is gained is irrelevant – how it’s applied is what matters. When children are given choice in what their education entails they tend to gravitate to what they are interested in. Don’t we all? As adults we try to discourage that because we think we know what’s in their best interest to “learn” and how. We tell them what to study, how to study and what to think and pay attention to during their formal education years and then set them loose in the world without critical thinking skills asking them to make the biggest decisions in their life when we’ve never allowed them input or the freedom to discern anything major before. That approach now has a whole generation wandering around lost trying to find themselves and what has meaning to them, while gaining skills that would actually be useful to them instead of all the mumbo jumbo they were forced to memorize and regurgitate that has no real world relevancy.

    In my opinion a quality education prepares a child to communicate well, get along with others in any setting, negotiate win-wins with high integrity and explore their interests knowing that the world is their classroom, everyone they meet has something to teach them and vice versa and that failure and mistakes are simply labels for “ok that apparently didn’t work the way I thought it would, need to rethink that and find another way”. Honestly, does it matter what they are reading or by what means as long as they’re reading. Same with writing. Technology has changed a lot of what we were conditioned to believe was important. We need to embrace the positivity of those advancements while guiding our kids in their use. It’s kind of like driving a car. You don’t just give them the keys and say “go at it – drive!” Same with the internet, they need to be able to taught how to use it effectively and safely.

    As someone who educated my daughter from start to finish at home (as a single parent which kind of nullifies the argument of not being able to stay home), I can tell you there are a few misperceptions here that I’d like to bring to your awareness.

    Are parents up for the job. Of course they are, they just may not realize they are already doing it on a conscious level. I think what parents need to realize and recognize is that whether they acknowledge it or not, they are the primary “teachers” of their children from the moment they they are born. Other “teachers” will come and go in their child’s lives, as coaches, instructors, social groups and even peers” but the parent will be the one constant through out. Some parents aren’t as involved in the direct delivery of their child’s education and some are more so. It’s not about whether they’re involved in their education, it’s about whether they are connected emotionally with their child and spending quality time with them that create bonds where the kids want to spend time with their parents. Only time with your child builds strong family bonds. Abdicating that precious time to child care while our kids grow up is not something we ever get back. Paying for expensive schools, toys and get aways does not replace what they need most…. You and your attention. Yes we are all busy, yes we all have bills to pay, but when we have children we have to realize they are a priority too.

    Parents choose what school their child goes to and the quality of the teachers their child has access to, or even if their child goes to a conventional school. The fact is though that every minute of every day a child is learning. When they interact with any other living being they are learning. It may not be academic skills but make no mistake they are taking everything in that everyone around them is doing and saying and modeling to them.

    Education today is being redefined because of the plethora of options available to us, what we study, how we study and what tools we use to get our information from. No one tool is better or worse than the other. It’s a matter of personal preference and learning style that tends to determine our preferences. The popularity of the internet and sites like Khan, YouTube, Classroom 2.0 and soooooooo many more sites out there is determined by their engagement and interactiveness. Like everything they have their pros and cons and should not be the sole instrument in the process of learning. Our world is, the people around us are, what we spend our time doing, watching and engaging in becomes our education.

    As chair of one of the largest home school support groups in our province for 3 years while my daughter was young, I spent many years working with teachers, schools, school boards and home school associations and support groups in various capacities. The one common thread through every one of them is they all wanted what was best for the children. When we keep that sole intention in mind, no one method of delivery rises above the other because every child is a unique entity unto them self. It’s all about what works best for the individual child. For some that’s online delivery, for some that’s a traditional school, others it’s organized preset curriculum to study and still others the freedom to explore what ever they are curious about.

    There’s a quote I love that states “It is one thing to show your child the way, it is a harder thing to then stand out of it.” Guiding our children in the process of learning the applicable life skills that will help them succeed is what we should be focused on. When a child knows how they learn, how to adapt information to their preferred learning style, how to communicate positively with others, how to negotiate win-wins, how to identify and organize themselves to accomplish what they want, having the freedom to determine and explore what’s of interest to them and how to find the relevant information and people that they can learn that from, they become self-directed life long learners that have the ability to design their futures . Isn’t that the end goal of education in the first place regardless of delivery method?

    You mention the BC Homeschool Association. There are many homeschool associations out there you could list as there are many sites out there that provide resources like Khan, Classroom 2.0 and Freedom In Learning. I encourage people to explore and find what works for them and their child. Focus there and you’ll find the delivery method that works best which in most cases is a combination of tools adapted to the child’s interest. In the end it’s about everyone recognizing they all have their place, and that coming together without judgement as a collaborative transformational community to serve and empower our children with tools designed to help guide them to discover their life purpose, and become the successful, self-confident, inspired, creative and fulfilled individuals they were meant to be is all that matters. Online, offline, we are all teachers every day to others. Becoming aware of what we may be inadvertently “teaching” through our words and actions is something we might want to pay more attention to.

    Margaret Ashley

    • Anna Sabramowicz

      Hi Margaret. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here – and your experience.

      What I think you bring up is an important point; “schooling” is not equal to “education”
      Many times I see people trying to find someone to blame for “schooling” not working out – bored teachers, badly behaved children, absentee parents. Who is to blame? Well in my mind it takes a village to raise a child (grandma and grandpa too!) and by sustaining an educational system that separates children from their communities and puts emphasis on abstraction we are not giving them a helping hand in becoming the “critical thinkers” and “leaders” that everyone wants.

      Take care,
      Anna

  • Katya

    Thanks for so informative post, Anna. I truly sympathize your thoughts. It’s really cool if parents are involved into children education. I am eager to help my future child as much and as long as I can. Then I will recall your article =)

    • Anna Sabramowicz

      Katya! Thank you for contributing.
      Feels good you found this useful – hopefully the encouraging feedback from the people contributing here gives you some ideas about what you’ll want to do when you decide to be a parent. You have lots of options!

      Also, I strongly suggest checking out any books by John Taylor Gatto – he has a very candid perspective on schools. And he really writes well :)

      Take care,
      Anna

  • Celine SIKA

    Hi everyone,

    Great article, great and interesting comments. The role of teachers in our children’s education today with ALL the opportunities we have available? Yes teachers are still important in the learning and developing process of our children because, and this is my opinion, education is not just about academic stuff. It is also about social development, which we unfortunately tend to forget or neglect, to find ourselves with serious consequences later. We are talking about educating human beings with emotions, dreams, needs, personal problems, etc. We can’t ignore this. And who is going to help our children get the necessary tools they need to live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life? Can machines, the Internet do this?
    Teachers are key players , an important piece in the puzzle of our children’s education just like parents, governments, and it is very important that we know this truth. They play an important part in the development process of our children. They support and facilitate their learning process by creating a caring environment, passing along information (teaching facts and skills), listening what our children have to say, encouraging and motivating them to keep on working and don’t give -what we all need to continue hold on and work to do our best and become a better us-, encouraging them to express themselves, mentoring or encouraging them to strive to the best they can, loving and caring. Teachers are third parents to many students, role models, advisers, counselors. Can the Internet play these important roles?

    I think technology alone is not sufficient and efficient to give our children a holistic education they need to live and succeed in this complex world. Of course, we are frustrated because of poor quality of the educational services our children are receiving from their schools. Many others factors are making us to consider pulling out of schools our children (economic crisis with all its consequences on families’ purchasing power, poor learning environment, all the learning opportunities we have, etc.). But instead of puling our children out of school, I think what we MUST do is to dig deep to know WHAT is wrong with our educational system, WHY our children are failing despite ALL the opportunities we have today to boost their academic achievements. WHY there are so many angry children and pupils.

    The Internet is a supplemental resource, not A resource in the education of our children. Well used (because it is not easy to find what you want in this spaghetti call the web), it can be a wonderful learning tool and boost our children’s academic achievements. For this reason it is being used more and more in classrooms by teachers and their students, with great success, in a structured environment, with people who care and are there to satisfy children’s individual needs. Someone must monitor its use. Someone must help our children to use the Internet, to use this important and useful tool.

    As someone said, enrolling your child today in a school or college is not a guarantee that he/she will be adequately educated. I want to add that pulling out of school your child and connecting him/she to the Internet for his/her education is not a guarantee that she/he will be educated and fly high academically. We have to TAKE ACTION, to actively get INVOLVED in our children’s education, investing time, energy, money, patience, reflexion, listening, etc., all the resources it takes to help them grow and become responsible, creative, happy, healthy men and women, well equipped to bring right and sustainable solutions to the problems of their time.

    • Anna Sabramowicz

      Celine, your comment is very thoughtful and passionate. Thank you for sharing!

      After being a part of the school system in Canada as a student and a teacher I applaud the call to action – but a coordinated effort (parents, teachers and communities) is what any kind of meaningful change will require.

      Quality experience in the classroom still varies from teacher to teacher, school to school – and I don’t blame the teacher, but the infrastructure which prevents quality education from taking root. That’s another discussion altogether :)

      Take care,
      Anna

  • Dr Yvonne Sum

    A parent is most likely going to be the first (role model ) teacher of any child. If we drop the teacher, do we drop the parent?

    I believe the internet is a supplement to the learning of the child. The human condition is a social condition – where we need to make connections face-to-face. Virtual teams still need to meet regularly – otherwise the connection is shallow. SOmehow, there is an energetic field in all of us that draws us to meet in our communities face-to-face.

    Well -we can’t hug one another literally online, can we??

    Drop the teacher (in various face-to-face contexts that is), and we could drop the connection.

    • Anna Sabramowicz

      Dr. Sum – Thank you for contributing here and bringing up the socialization aspect! I think this is a common concern for many parents – will my child be unsociable as a result of home-schooling?

      I have to say, and maybe some will not agree with me, that socialization does not happen in schools. Children mostly socialize in the school “yard” and after school, when they have a chance to participate in free, unstructured play with other kids.

      I wish we could hug each other online. My line is “virtual hugs!”, but to think that hugs originate at school is another misunderstanding. In fact, hugging and any physical contact is discouraged – its hard when you see a child simply starved for affection and you know that you can’t offer them what they need.

      So the whole concept of socialization, of that connection, to me is a little bit off – when we are obviously failing at both. And to use this as an argument for keeping children in school is not convincing to me.

      Thoughts?

  • iGameMom

    I have been reviewing educational apps for kids for a while, along the way, I get to know quite some parents who decided home school their kids. I don’t feel I can do that, but with the new technology, a lot resources are available for people to do it. I guess the challenge for the school is how do the school keep up with all these and stay competetive in the new system?

    • Anna Sabramowicz

      Hi iGameMom, glad you’re exploring other avenues for education :)

      I think you have to consider that to teach a child at home, you don’t have to replicate a traditional school style system, where six topics are taught every day, with an hour on each, etc. In fact, you probably can as a parent, provide an environment of sustained focus on one or two subjects at a time. I think there would be a lot of benefits to approaching it this way.

      Can you give me more details about what it means to be a part of a competitive education system? I need to understand this better before I explore it here.

      Thank you for reading!

  • Sonia

    Wow! Thanks for this deep, thought provoking article with excellent resource guides.
    Drop the teacher? Well, a parent is the first teacher a child has and that definitely cannot be dropped! I feel that often in a parent, unknowingly, the sense of responsibility for the child gets jumbled with expectations from the child. Which is why they get hyper when the child fails to understand whatever they are communicating.
    Being under the guidance of a teacher has so many positives:
    1) A teacher is generally tuned to come down to the level of the child and communicate.
    2) Peers ask questions and doubts (an individual sitting alone may not have thought them) which are answered, enhancing learning.
    3) We are all energy fields and personal interaction is very important. Learning is not just about academics but also social skills. For a child, a school is the best place as she is among the same age group, guided by a relatively wiser soul.

  • About Anna
    Co-founder of Skillagents.com, Lead Instructional Designer at eLearnerEngaged, public speaker, learner, nature lover... and Dog Whisperer in training.

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