Teaching and learning haven’t changed much in the history of mankind. They are characterized by a teacher or professor standing in front of a classroom and sharing information with students. Socrates varied it a bit by using a questioning method to lead the students to insight and learning. Nevertheless, it still followed the basic pattern of the teacher as an information dispenser. Until technology changed there weren’t many choices available to us. In some areas self-learning was acceptable. If I remember correctly Abe Lincoln studied on his own to pass the bar and become an attorney. Self-learning isn’t widely accepted because there is no certificate earned to show that the student has learned anything.
Technology has changed our access to education. Back in the mid-1970s, I took some accounting and economics correspondence courses from the University of Texas. They were true correspondence courses as assignments, tests, and such were mailed back and forth between the teacher and myself. There was no email and I never spoke to the teacher. Technology jumped ahead. By 1997 we had a home desktop computer with a telephone modem connection to the internet which was pretty boring as there wasn’t much to see on the internet at that time. I also had a 6 six-year-old daughter whom my wife was going to homeschool for first grade. I still remember the books and materials stacked up nearly as tall as my daughter. They stayed stacked up and for a variety of reasons there was no organized homeschooling going on, but we did have a computer.
There were at that time several learning software programs for children. There was a Reader Rabbit series, Jump Start Grade series and learn-to-type programs. I had already started teaching her to read when she was four so she could handle the computer programs pretty much on her own. We bought the entire series of learning programs and she worked with them unsupervised. The summer before traditional second grade we decided that we should go ahead and enroll her into a private school for 2nd grade in case we were missing something. When they tested her before admission she tested at third and a half grade level. So that was quite a testament to the software programs and her dedication. On her own, she finished first and second grade and half of the third. We put her into the second grade for socialization and I would rather her be the smartest kid in 2nd grade than the youngest kid in the third grade.
After second grade, we had differences with the school so we decided to try homeschooling again, this time with VHS video learning filmed in a real classroom. Once again, my daughter was on her own, watching the videos and doing the homework. We went through third and fourth grade by video then she told us she wanted to go back to school. She wanted to compete with other kids. So, we tried another school for fifth grade and before admission, she tested at sixth and a half. Once again, learning on her own put her ahead of grade level. Fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades were spent in a traditional classroom though it was a private school.
By the start of ninth grade, my now ex-wife and my daughter moved to Colorado and she was enrolled in another private school. When tested before admission, she was at grade level. Hmmmmm I thought, I paid $5,000 a year for four years to dumb down my daughter to grade level. But I was no longer in charge of her education. She finished ninth and tenth grade in private school but before eleventh grade started she called me and asked if she could finish high school using online courses. She said that in the regular classroom they wasted time all day then she had to stay up late doing homework and things that could have been done in class. She was remembering the freedom she had during video homeschooling. She also wanted to find a part-time job. She was sixteen. I told her sure, so she signed up for online high school and became a Starbucks barista.
In two years, she had finished high school having never made anything less than an A in any of her school experiences. For college, she decided to take a mix of online and classroom college courses. She took the classroom courses just to see what traditional college courses were like. I wasn’t part of this experiment but I believe most of her college was done online while working at her Starbucks job. She graduated Summa Cum Laude just fractions of a point less than what was needed for Magna Cum Laude, a fact that she is still probably pissed off about ten years later.
I am certainly proud of my daughter’s achievements but the point of this blog is that there are many different ways to get an education. The technology has improved and there are more options available now than during my daughter’s time. Studying on her own, using a couple of different methods, she was managing to excel beyond her grade levels, while sitting in a traditional classroom she was somehow limited in her learning experience. I believe we should be using the technology available to us to completely overhaul our education system, especially at the college level.