Online Education in the Covid-19 Crisis: “It’s Like Coke Dealers Handing Out Free Samples”

Yves here. It is very depressing to see how many parties are making very effective use of Covid-19 to advance their agendas, such as gutting public education. One of the reasons to be skeptical of online education as a mainstay, as opposed to a supplement to classroom based teaching, is the findings of Nobel Prize winner James Heckman on GED certificates. His work over decades has consistently found that recipients of GED degrees, who are high school dropouts who typically prepare for and pass a test that certifies that they have received a high school equivalent education, in fact perform only marginally better than dropouts, even after GED reforms. From a 2012 paper:

GED recipients perform in the labor market, post-secondary schooling, the military, and, in general, society at a level very close to that of dropouts and below that of high school graduates.

Heckman hypothesizes that going to school is not just about assimilating information and passing tests. It also requires learning to show up every day on time, and acquiring social skills like handling a variety of non-parental authority figures and peers. Those can’t be conveyed online.

By Lynn Parramore, senior research analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Economist Gordon Lafer, author of The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time, has delved deeply into the highly-orchestrated political activities of corporate-backed groups set on changing the American education system in ways that he believes are detrimental to the country’s future. Lafer, who teaches at the University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center, is a member of the Eugene School District Board and once served as senior policy advisor to the Education and Labor Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He sees the Covid-19 crisis as the perfect opportunity for companies far more interested in the bottom line than student learning to seize America’s education system and turn it into a robotic, one-size-fits-all program where teachers eventually disappear from the scene and students, especially the most vulnerable, get left behind. He joined the Institute for New Economic Thinking for a conversation about what’s at state in online learning and how technology, if properly guided, can be good for students, teachers, and parents.

Lynn Parramore: This crisis differs from previous ones in the abrupt movement to online learning that is affecting so many people. Many are cheering tech companies for providing education platforms during school closures. Yet your work issues a cautionary message – warning that Big Business and corporate-backed groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have coordinated in the past to undermine public education through things like lowering accreditation requirements for teachers, replacing public schools with privately run charters, and – here we come to the Covid-19 moment – to move students to online learning. Is this crisis an opportunity to further their agenda?

Gordon Lafer: I think there’s no question that they view it as a huge opportunity. As you know, I was elected to the board of education in Eugene last year. When the pandemic hit, right away we got a list of all these technology companies that make education software that were offering free access to their products for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. They pitch these offerings as stepping up to help out the country in a moment of crisis. But it’s also like coke dealers handing out free samples.

I can see this in my own school system, where you have pressure from everybody, from students and parents who are saying, okay, seniors need to graduate, and kids need to learn whatever they’re supposed to learn. The easiest thing, the laziest thing to do, is to just get some outside apps and put everybody on that. Well, that’s great for those technology companies and their investors. But it’s terrible for education, partly because so much of education depends on the personal relationship between teachers and students.

LP: Surely that is even more true for the less advantaged students?

GL: That’s right. The kids who are most needy are most in need of an adult point of contact, which is harder to get with online learning. The truth is – and we’ve been talking about this here in Oregon – if we would take the time, and put more work into it, we’re at a point where technology allows much more creative forms of online education than what tech companies are offering.

Parents want somebody who pays attention to their kid. Maybe the kid is shy or has anger problems, whatever it is. The learning platforms the tech companies want aren’t interested in that. They only want to see how fast you do the problem. That’s not going to work for the kids from the most marginalized communities who are not getting education support at home, who come from various kinds of trauma. They, more than anybody, need to be taught by a skilled teacher who knows them as an individual. I think, to some degree, that may be what every parent wants, but teachers will have to take the initiative to create these models.

What makes sense for investors in tech companies, first of all, is uniformity and a product that is scalable. Second of all, they do not want to be dependent on teachers. But online learning doesn’t have to be this way. Technology offers many ways to do it. Unfortunately, the software companies want to do it in this one way that is actually a one-pedagogy-fits-all approach.

In some ways, we may be in a race against the education technology industry, which is just going to try to roll their programs out as fast as they can. In light of that, we really need to work through these better alternatives so we can say, look, this is what we can do instead. We can do something which is much better for everybody’s kids.

LP: What might those creative platforms look like? How might they benefit teachers and students?

GL: There are some interesting ideas that I’ve been talking to people about and that teachers here have been investigating. Suppose you needed to learn seventh-grade English. There might be a teacher who teaches it through poetry. Another teacher might look at it through science fiction or memoir-writing. You could really have more choice for kids, right? Instead of just having your one teacher, you could say, here are three different ways you could learn this material. You can choose because the teachers are online.

Maybe somebody is going to teach elementary school math from the textbook. Another is going to teach it by drawing and allow kids to draw interactively online. Yet another might teach it by saying, I’d like you to go walk around your house and find a shoebox and an egg and a cup, and we can talk about shapes and the relationship of shapes to each other.

We’ve even discussed a possibility where, let’s say a social studies teacher has four classes a day and they’re teaching the same thing four times. Well, they could decide that part of the class – the part that is just repeating a presentation — could be done just once. Everybody could watch that part whenever they want, and that frees up time for the teacher either to have more individual time for phone calls with students or small groups through Zoom chats. You end up with much more personal interaction.

The ironic thing is that we’re at a point where the technology actually enables a lot creative, engaged, teacher-driven education that still maintains, and maybe even strengthens, the personal relationship between teachers and their students.

LP: What is at stake for our kids and the country’s future if we go the one-size-fits all, less engaged route that many tech companies and their investors would prefer?

GL: Well, some kids would do ok with it, but a lot of kids won’t. They won’t be able to learn, and their experience will be one of failure. You can kind of tell how it would happen. While other kids are advancing to the next level, they’re not. And the response to failure provided by the tech company software may not be adequate to that situation. Instead of a teacher helping a student to find a book that makes reading fun while they’re learning phonemes, you might have a program that just offers more drilling. Which is probably not going to help.

You also have to realize that kids, even high school kids, are not going to spend six hours a day sitting in front of a screen doing classes. Some will just stop doing it. In the short-run, I think you’re going to see a lot of problems with that kind of disengagement.

There’s also a huge inequity issue of who has access to Wi-Fi and computers. In the long-run, I think what these companies really want is to say, look, our platforms worked during the crisis, so this is what we should do going forward. We should get rid of teachers. They’ll promote all the reasons why they think it’s better not just for now, but long after the crisis has passed.

LP: Get rid of teachers altogether? How would they get the public to accept that?

GL: One of the things that will help them make that argument is budgets. Assuming we’re in a serious recession for a year or more — that means everybody’s budget is going to get cut. Here in Eugene, the school funding is based on income tax. Whether it’s based on income tax or property tax, you can be sure budgets are going to go down, which means that you’re going to see cuts. Then the tech companies are going to come and say, well, instead of spending $10,000 for a kid to be educated in a classroom, you could spend $7,000 per kid to put them online. The tech companies will be happy, still able to make a 20 percent profit. When you have budget cuts, some people will find this sort of thing becoming more attractive.

LP: In your book, you described ways in which the U.S. public education system has been weakened through corporate lobbying both to “fix” problems that don’t exist and offer inappropriate solutions to those that do. If Covid-19 allows corporations to drive education, could our public education system end up in worse shape? What does this mean to a democratic society and how can Americans push back for a better outcome?

GL: I think it is true that the public education system could end up in worse shape. It’s definitely a moment to try to be creative, and that can mean a lot of things. Something interesting about this particular social issue is that public education is almost the only thing left in America that almost everybody thinks you have a right to just by virtue of living here. Partly because of that, schools have taken on certain kinds of responsibilities that would not obviously be theirs. One of the most obvious ones is feeding kids. So, a lot of kids only get breakfast and lunch because they’re in school. A lot only get mental health counseling or see a nurse because they’re in school. That’s why during the pandemic, you’ll see that a lot of school systems, like my school system, are figuring out ways to keep on providing some of those things, especially meals.

Some schools are designating a spot where kids can come to pick up a bag lunch or something like that, where there’s very little contact to protect against spreading the virus. But we could be thinking about ways to provide food not just for the kids, but for all the neediest families. Maybe through that point of contact we could be distributing assignments that could be followed up by calls from the teacher. We’re thinking through all of these possibilities.

As many people have said, this is uncharted territory. The pandemic reveals class divisions in a very stark way. I don’t know what’s going to happen. If we end up with 20 percent unemployment and a lot of people are homeless because there’s no work, it’s going to be chaotic. These moments can go in a lot of different directions. Unlike most European countries, the whole governmental public system for taking care of people has been so dismantled in the U.S., including education. Stuff gets overwhelmed when lot of people are jobless. Increasingly, the super-rich have plans to isolate themselves from the fallout of these disasters. I would like to think that everybody’s going to organize in a progressive way and make progressive demands on the government, but I don’t know. Let’s hope so.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. John Beech

    GED recipients perform in the labor market, post-secondary schooling, the military, and, in general, society at a level very close to that of dropouts and below that of high school graduates. – Heckman

    This is funny. Who other than dropouts makes up the body of GED students?

    As a certified educator (secondary ed. math and science), I have a bit of experience and a few thoughts on this subject. This business about GED students not performing on par with HS graduates is par for the course because these students are, by definition, the same population as dropouts. The difference is, for various reasons, they are ones sufficiently motivated to return to school to attain a GED – but – this doesn’t change who they are . . . dropouts.

    I mean it’s all fine and good to suppose the GED student is every bit as smart as the regular diploma program graduate. However, this view neglects several obvious, and very real, realities. Drops outs are typically slower learners. And note, the rate of dropouts has been consistently about 25% of all students since the 1950s despite the periodic ‘revolution’ in teaching methods and testing methodology with which the profession is afflicted.

    Finally, regarding distance learning and its role in education. You fool yourself if you don’t realize there is a time and a place for this technology – and – integrating it into the school system is going to happen despite the moans and groans of those who have never been in the classroom because there are too many attractive benefits. Chief amongst them these days are the flexibility it accords the school system during a pandemic or other social disruption, but also the very real possibility of cost savings. Added to which, there’s the ability to test teacher’s performance in a near laboratory setting as their sessions are canned and reused.

    Finally, those of you with a money making bent may be well served in learning a bit about a small outfit in Madison, WI stock symbol SOFO because of their business model and because of the impressive list of higher ed. institutions they’re serving.

    1. JTMcPhee

      I’m glad I went to public school when and where I did. In my high school, the majority of teachers in the “academic” subjects had Ph.Ds in the subject. The community was led by people that believed in funding good education, as a way to keep up the level of awareness and literacy and competence in the community. The school board was decidedly “liberal,” in the old-fashioned meaning of the term.

      We had dropouts, but in this mixed upper-middle-class and working-stiff community, they ranged across the class spectrum. Some were for “embarrassing reasons” like getting pregnant, some had to go to work to support a family where a parent absconded or had health problems. I wonder whether the “educators” who “study” areas like dropout characteristics and performance, who as you point out regularly force often idiotic and more often propagandistic curriculum changes on the schools and tend to talk their book when pontificating about dropouts and their failings, do any kind of detailed analysis of situation sets for the population that makes up the “dropout” cadre. There are huge collective failings that produce kids who don;t make it through at least high school, beyond individual apacities that in many cases are damaged by poor nutrition and predatory capitalism’s effects on Markets we all find ourselves having to live in.

      Bill Gates, who exercises a lot of baleful influence in Education Circles, did make it through high school only to drop out of Harvard to start his monopoly, and his efforts to corporatize education everywhere…

      1. Anon

        Bill Gates, as we all know, is not a typical “dropout”. As you pointed out, with his operating system software scam for the emerging personal computer market, he had bigger fish to fry than cavort at Harvard.

        He likely learned his monopolistic tendencies (suing competitors) from his daddy: a corporate lawyer in the Seattle area. He likely earned good grades in high school to get into Harvard. He’s not dumb, just conniving. His support of a rapid vaccine for Covid-19 is a mea culpa for his support of charter schools. A reasonable idea distorted into a raping of the public school system by charlatans and profiteers.

        1. JTMcPhee

          I’ve noted before that I shared a secretary with Bill Gates, Sr., when I worked at the law firm of which he was a name partner — Preston Thorgimson Shidler Gates & Ellis, which became Preston Thorgrimson Gates & Ellis, then Preston Gates & Ellis and finally was eaten alive by merging with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham to form K&L Gates. There was a DC office that billed millions to Microsoft for lobbying various government agencies.

          That “sharing” was kind of like what the son’s idea of “sharing” with his competitors was. I got about 5% of her time, did most of my own typing and other secretarial tasks.

          1. LawnDart

            How could you last so long amongst those sociopaths? And what did recovery look like– how did you reclaim your own soul?

            From first-hand experience, I know from the names you mention– that they are cold and soul-less “liberals” for the most part. And that it all is just a game to them, kind of like Harvard vs, Yale. At one time in life, I darkened their doorways and dirtied their doormats as an unfortunate and unwelcome guest.

      2. Off The Street

        Lakeside School, a private day school, where his education was likely quite different in academic and social aspects. Tuition is high, pricing out those unable to afford it, although perhaps a gift of shares or similar contribution by Gates, et al could help open a few doors.

        That brings up a few questions.
        Will Lakeside, or similarly situated schools be converting to more online offerings?
        Will those parents have their kids learn the same way that they suggest to others?

        1. LawnDart

          Hell no.

          Straight from the horses mouth (in this case, the wife/matriarch of a “good

    2. Kilgore Trout

      Public education system has been under assault by neoliberalism for decades. It reached its apotheosis withCommon Core, sold by the Obama administration with the pretense that under its framework all students would be “college or career ready”. As Diane Ravitch and others have pointed out, it is ludicrous for the student intent on becoming a plumber to be required to take the same set of tests as the Ivy League bound student. (By no means do I intend to demean the future tradesperson. I speak as someone who spent 27 years in elementary education, but whose first teaching certificate was in vocational education–cabinetmaking. Readers here well know neo-liberalism has demeaned those who labor with their hands–there are no words to convey my disgust at those who told redundant factory workers they should “learn to code”. Just as we sold off our manufacturing base, school systems sold off their industrial arts programs. Our school systems would be better off with a trade-school/apprentice program akin to Germany and that of other European countries. I’m not in favor of high-stakes testing, but we need to revamp our entire public school model and get far away from the college-for everyone model. Common Core should probably be one of the first things to go, since it embodies the essence of sneering credentialist neo-liberalism, as Thomas Frank might put it.

    3. Rob Chametzky

      These findings are really quite robust. Most all of it is reported in a 2015 book “The myth of achievement tests:The GED and the role of character in American life.” published by the University of Chicago Press.

      Several somewhat interesting/amusing points.

      First, only a highly-trained, highly successful neo-classical econmist such as Heckman could be surprised, as he says he was, to find that cognitive ability, as measured by the tests, didn’t predict economic success. Rather, as he apparently had to discover through all sorts of high-end research, other things matter more, and that “going to school” is itself, as we say today, a thing.

      Second, he recognizes that others have observed this before. So, for example, it is noted that Ralph Tyler–a major figure in educational assessment–back in the 1940s was saying such things. On the amusing side, he cites Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis making these sorts of points in their 1976 “Schooling in capitalist America: Educational reform and the contradictions of economic life”. B & G were not making exactly the same points or drawing quite the same conclusions.

      Finally, the research on “natural pedagogy” and on “teaching as a natural cognitive ability” might make one less than wildly optimisitc about the capacity for online instruction to really replace people with people in room (or maybe outside) together. Here’s a link to a paper that brings these two sets of research findings together.

      Rob Chametzky

    4. Jack Parsons

      I used to work at an online K-12 learning institution, one that you’ve only heard of if you have kids in school. I came away somewhat dubious of the whole enterprise, from business model (their customers don’t have money) to ultimate purpose (the board was silicon valley billionaires who fund union-busting).

      Higher Ed is very different- college exists to reproduce a different social class than public schools do.
      Software for college might do well. I wrote the first college-level math software 40 years ago (Apple II !), but haven’t tracked the field since then.

      1. Charger01

        Currently attending an online only Masters program through a state college. I assure you, there is quite a bit lost in translation when your online only. The academic advisors and resources are threadbare at best. In person student have and will (God willing) command greater resources and attention than the online students will. It’s very easy to ignore an e-mail compared to student at your desk.

        1. Rod

          For the last several years of my long career in Public Education(K-Post Secondary) I spent a lot of time parring away exciting Content from Online Courses to get them “Threadbare” enough to ‘manage’ 20-30 students into fair and impartial Assesment Matrixes and minimum interactions.
          I felt like I had cooked a plateful of activity without much nutrition.
          Because my teaching load was still mixed, you can imagine which class got the least attention in presentation.
          Students openly discussed, and reflected, the difference in Content Quantity between online and in person offerings.

    5. ObjectiveFunction

      1. So much of e̶d̶u̶c̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ the economy depends on the personal relationship between t̶e̶a̶c̶h̶e̶r̶s̶ experienced workers and s̶t̶u̶d̶e̶n̶t̶s̶ trainees.

      2. What makes sense for investors in tech companies, first of all, is uniformity and a product that is scalable. Second of all, they do not want to be dependent on t̶e̶a̶c̶h̶e̶r̶s̶ experienced workers.

      3. What these companies really want is to say, look, our platforms worked during the crisis, so this is what we should do going forward. We should get rid of t̶e̶a̶c̶h̶e̶r̶s̶ experienced workers.

      Mr. Beech: there is a time and a place for this technology – and – integrating it into the school system is going to happen… the very real possibility of cost savings. Added to which, there’s the ability to t̶e̶s̶t̶ mimic t̶e̶a̶c̶h̶e̶r̶s̶ experienced workers’ performance in a near laboratory setting as their sessions are canned and reused.

      Fixed and broadened that for youse mopes.

      Labor arbitrage by any other name would smell as sweet….

    6. jackiebass

      As a retired educator of 35 years, I disagree with your claim that drop outs are slower learners. I would say they reflect the general school population in learning ability.There are a lot of reasons for a student to drop out but ability isn’t a major one. In fact many drop outs are very bright.Many drop outs go the GED route because it is easier. to get a regular diploma involves staying in school and spending time to fulfill the requirements for their diploma. To get a GED involves a lot less time. I remember asking a bright girl why she was dropping out. She replied that she was now old enough to take the test to get her GED. She was in 10 grade and would have to spend 2 more years to get a regular diploma.
      I would like to comment about online learning. It generally has been big failure. Probably the biggest reasons are motivation and discipline. At home there is little motivation to go online and work on schooling. Often there is no-one home to see that they do their school work. Studies have show that students soon get bored without a lack of contact with a real teacher. This results in them actually dropping out of the program. When teaching our school had a computer lab you could take your class to. At first they loved it. Shortly the got bored with the computer lab. As a teacher you had to be careful about not going to the lab often. Most of the so called reforms in education are about money not results. The experts, teachers, have little or no input in reform. They are simply given something and told to make it work. For reform in education to be successful you need experts, teachers, to be the major developer of what reform is going to be.

      1. Felix_47

        I know a number of people with GEDs that are very bright and accomplished……to include my SO and one of my kids!!!! A lot of getting ahead is luck even in the case of Bill Gates. A lot of success in the stock market is just luck….. Maybe what counts is knowing when you are lucky.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Bill Gates is NOT a GED.

          He went to an elite private high school and dropped out of Harvard.

          I know an extremely bright GED (brilliant programmer) who was a complete fuck up in his personal life (wound up convicted of a felony, don’t even ask, his friends say he was set up and on this issue they have no reason to lie because they are also friends of the guy who allegedly set him up).

          1. Rob Chametzky

            None of this is really at issue. The Heckman ‘discovery’ is that despite their cognitive abilities, GED-bearing people are in other ways more like (other) HS drop-outs than like (other) HS graduates. This for the simple, and obvious, reason that THEY DON’T COMPLETE HS, and completing school requres all sorts of ‘abilities’ besides cognitive ones. As I noted above, that’s because “going to school” is itself, as one says today, “a thing”, and one can be variously good or bad at IT.

            One way to look at and think about Heckman, and some ‘findings’ in the “test-optional” admissions literature, is that there is a population that our educational system is failing dramatically but that this failure does not get much attention, viz, people who test well but don’t do commensuately well in school. These are people who, one could argue, are a cognitive resource that is being wasted. Because they do not do so well in school, they either lack entirely or have incommensurately lower credentials than their cognitive abilities warrant, and so the signalling function of credentials effectively turns them into false negatives. Therefore both they and the wider society suffer from the suboptimal use of their cognitive abilities.

            –Rob Chametzky

    7. xkeyscored

      “Heckman hypothesizes that going to school … requires learning to show up every day on time, and acquiring social skills like handling a variety of non-parental authority figures.”

      Or to put it another way, submitting to capitalist time and hierarchy.

      1. Rob Chametzky

        See my reference above to Bowles & Gintis 1976 “Schooling in capitalist America” which Heckman references as having shown importance of (what are now called) “noncognitive” traits to success in job markets. As I noted, B & G and Heckman didn’t draw precisely the same conclusions from this finding.

    8. Nicholas Hazen, BA (Hons) MA.

      An inflexible curriculum coupled with sub-par teachers are also reasons for drop-outs, many of whom do much better in a GED environment of their choosing, which often has more flexibility and better-trained teachers. Also there are stark differences in the way boys and girls learn in school, whatever the SJWs say, and to ignore these facts and shunt boys – who are the majority of drop-outs – into programs designed for girls is doomed to fail at a very high rate.

  2. rd

    My spouse works in an inner city elementary school. Going online would require thousands of dollars each year for education for her classroom. Right now about one-third of her class has the capability to do work online. The rest are relying on picking up and dropping off paper assignments when they pick up lunches (everybody in her classroom is on free lunch, most kids were on free breakfast, and some were on free dinner).

    So you would need a tablet or laptop for every kid, many do not have internet at home except on a smartphone through cell service. So in a 12 year education program, you would need to replace that hardware twice after giving it to them initially plus provide internet access. Trust me, there is no school budget for inner city schools that even imagines that expense.

    1. Merf56

      My son in law teaches middle school in a low income district. A labor of love for him. He is beside himself with school being suspended. The district has a facade of online learning but nothing is getting done. 70+% of his kids have no internet at home and no computers or tablets anyway. He is doing similar- paper assignments taken and given when they come for their grab and go meals but the kids and families are a mess. The few that have jobs are frantic. Little Kids home alone, others no money coming in yet, some families with alcohol and drug issues.
      My son in law is not sleeping anymore trying to help, educate and protect his most fragile students. My Spouse has been going with him to check on some of them taking food, paper pencils, games etc . He has had to begin talking to a counselor- on Skype, to deal with the stress. Which is affecting our daughter as she struggles with online teaching as a college professor.
      Public education IS being systematically destroyed and was before this golden opportunity to finish it off arose.
      It’s sickening….

      1. Watt4Bob

        I have a daughter who is new to teaching, and is reporting the exact same experience as your son in law.

        She described the school board types as “Betsy Devos all the way down.”

        There ought to be a bounty on those who would destroy our public schools in the process of chasing the dollar.

        1. xkeyscored

          “There ought to be a bounty”
          Maybe that idea’s the reason why the $1200 cheques are so slow in coming.

      2. Kurtismayfield

        I can report the same from a small working class city population.. it doesn’t matter that I am posting assignments, most of the students aren’t participating. The school has given them all laptops, and has had the pick up assignments option, and participation had been dreadful. These kids didn’t sign on for this, and the stresses they are dealing with are not making the home a great learning environment.

      3. JTMcPhee

        A huge thank-you to all the people who are actually teachers, doing what you do now, and did before this crisis that obviously is not being allowed to go to waste.

        THANK YOU and bless you!

    2. Anarcissie

      Given the way government, institutional, and corporate public-facing functions have now been mostly relegated to the Internet, it should be the responsibility of Federal or state government to ensure that every citizen has a connection to the Internet at a very low rate or free of charge, probably though neighborhood WiFi systems (which already exist in some cities). Likewise, basic but adequate and durable devices for accessing the Net could be produced cheaply with likely economies of scale, and given/loaned free of charge to public-school students (or everybody). See the Wikipedia article on the OLPC XO project ( for an example of the idea from yesteryear (actually, it’s still functioning to some extent).

      I mean, of course, if you guys really want to do the state public-education thing in the contemporary, climate-feverish, plague-ridden world. I concede that putting all children universally online via authoritarian institutions is ideologically questionable, but currently that’s the way we do things anyway. I’m an anarchist, but not a very pure one.

  3. JTMcPhee

    On the margin, my grandson has a kind of undifferentiated learning challenge, compounded of divorce, one parent who babysits him with “screens” and mostly violent games, and the custodial parent has had some demanding IT-related jobs where she really ever had any time not on the clock. Reading, and especially reading comprehension as the education system measures it (prep for college entrance exams), have been uphill for the lad.

    Now mom has a new job, and because of the virus is working at home, and she says that with the kind of attention she can now pay to son’s studies she can see what his classroom teachers cannot, due to combination of teacher quality, class size and other issues. (FL schools are negative beneficiaries of both old people resisting taxes to pay for quality, crapification, and privatization diverting resources to “charter schools” that pretty uniformly are frauds, with rare exceptions, So the young man has jumped up and started doing really well.

    Anecdote does not equal data, of course. This is a very particular circumstance of a skilled parent with suddenly the time to be Much more involved in the kid’s learning process. Amazing that we Americans do as well as we do, given the dysfunction and looting and fraud and certificateishness of a system being intentionally hijacked to serve corporate and parochial interests… See this on “conservatives” loading up local and state school boards, the kind of stuff that “liberals” and even progressives find distasteful and so find their kids learning some very strange stuff indeed, And this, on corporate “revision” of education, to make it more corporate- and autocrat-friendly:

    I’m hoping that my grandson develops a strong critical faculty and does not turn into just another sheeple. It’s going to be a slog, since not only are the institutional structures against it, his mom is pretty conservative politically…

  4. Susan the other

    I don’t have anything drastic against online instruction. The examples of good online choices are one reason to develop online courses. Teachers can address individual students better in some cases. But I have an aversion to too much online learning. Because: you learn a different skill set online, one that is removed from your own creative impulses. Take reading: it’s a process of imagining (without being prompted by cartoons on the screen) as you read; it’s a complex interaction with your own brain and words on a page and your understanding of those words will have a nuance only you can give it. So I really don’t think reading is a subject which can be properly taught online. Not in the beginning. Maybe as reading gets more specific and technical it works fine online. But math? – yes I do think math can be taught online because there is no nuance to be added to the number 3 except 3. But the most important thing that causes me hesitation is synergy. Something happens in a classroom of 30 rowdy kids when they are all told to think about some problem and write a short essay – they can discuss it the next day and in the process there is an explosion of learning – each kid learns from every other kid and creative energy takes off like a rocket. Those experiences are a moveable feast; kids carry them throughout life. I don’t think online instruction can perform that alchemy – not even a drop of it. And without that kid-to-kid synergy, understanding is sort of pre-sterilized. So many questions are precluded. And to preclude questions just for the sake of a corporation’s productivity is at best temporary, it doesn’t consider what is being sacrificed and lost to the future. But that’s just my aversion. Corporations can learn too, can’t they?

    1. coboarts

      I have a suggestion for a new model for education, where the Arts lead education into the future. It is based on the idea that technology will completely dominate the technical training of students and that instead of relegating the role of teacher to caretaker, a new paradigm could place the teacher in the role of creative influencer and director of integrated curriculum in the service of artistic productions – working together toward defined, timebound goals. Using all manner and mix of plastic and performing arts, different age levels can be given growing roles in creating and developing ultimate performances that satisfy study and production across the curriculum.

      1. Susan the other

        that is a great idea, but don’t leave out science – science is another art form and there’s a place there to encourage questions and explore.

        1. coboarts

          Imagine not only including relevant science information in plays and sceneries, imagine putting together plays in class that recreate scientific discoveries and all the intrigues and “humanities” surrounding them. Imagine creating plays that challenged current theories and imagined as yet unbroken discoveries. I’ve thought this through a lot, and I’ve had good acceptance of the idea from my local art community, and I work with all levels of education TK12 – higher ed. I think it’s totally doable, beginning with a nonprofit that would deliver, at no cost, grade level appropriate, curriculum tied kits to teachers to try it out, developing a community of educators, artists and student participants who would drive the idea into the future. The only thing is – I want someone else to take this ball and run with it. My art is where my heart is, and it is from there that this idea rises.

        2. Synoia

          I did a lot of exploring in Science. Do not mix Concentrated Nitric Acid, Chromium Di-sulfate and Magnesium.

          It does not go bang, but the flame was 1m high, and hot enough to crack pottery.


            1. Synoia

              Personal testing. Once.

              I was considered a good student, and had keys to the Chemistry & Physics Labs.

              I can also discuss how 850 volts at 5 amps DC were not kind to a 803 tube (valve),

              The ham radio power limit in the UK was 150 watts. I think the 803 did somewhat better than that number.

              1. xkeyscored

                A box of magnesium ribbon somehow catching alight rivals many a fireworks display, defies most attempts to extinguish it, and is unkind to concrete floors.

                1. Charger01

                  Metallic sodium, once liberated from its oil bath with a bit of moisture added, is also quite impressive.

                2. coboarts

                  An old VW magnesium engine block lit up the skies at desert campouts quite well. Segue-ing back to my proposition about the Arts and Education, these chemical reactions can be modeled, dramatically and with related scenery, with each grade/age level developing a deeper understanding of the physical processes involved – including symbolic and deeply psychological processes, depending on the creativity of the “actors” involved with the production and the outline and prompts for the challenge. I don’t know if Science can contain the Arts, but the Arts can contain Science.

                  Oh, and yeah, I think moving to all online education is a grab at school properties and completely wrong for education.

    2. hemeantwell

      Tremendously good point about synergy. I think you could also call it internalization of norms for collective problem solving — for example, respect for the stronger argument — and that what the rowdy kids are learning to do is to approximate the ideal type of a scientific community. But “figuring something out” is very different from learning to do what you’re told. This distinction wasn’t given enough emphasis in books like Bowles and Gintis’ Schooling in Capitalist America, which held that K-12 schooling is primarily about teaching behavioral compliance to workplace authority.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      I disagree with you vehemently about “math”.

      Math is not computation. Try teaching kids how to do something as simple as add fractions, or solve quadratic equations, or, say, understand group theory (very important to higher math) online. Our Andrew Dittmer is a phenomenally successful “math” instructor, getting kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to perform at very high levels in the 6th and 7th grade. The Cambridge school system tried to codify his approach and failed.

      1. Synoia

        Math is rigorous logic, problem solving, and knowledge of the possible “tools” available.

      2. Steve H.

        Yves, I wanted to address math in your Coronavirus: A Theory of Incompetence post, but I’m having a hard time articulating it. You wrote:

        > and the rise of symbol manipulation as the dominant means of managing in the private sector and government.

        > the too-common belief that it is possible to run an operation, any operation, by numbers, appears to be a root cause

        Math arose as a practical method of handling the world. Sumerian accountants, and builders using the Pythagoras Theorem, were grounded in material reality. The number itself was a useful abstraction. A symbol.

        Higher math is considered to be very abstract, but can be less removed from material reality than the arithmetic used on Wall Street. For example, log scales to understand chemical and biological cascades, interpreting material data.

        So unemployment, for example, can be grounded in reality. But when the ue stats are used as the material reality, and models are built to manipulate the abstraction, the ideas become uncoupled from the real. This has been going on in economics for a long time. Mortimer Adler: “People who try to imagine what ideas refer to befuddle themselves, and end up with a hopeless feeling about all abstractions.”

        You pointed to a successful case from 2006, which means a change happened since then. That is not a generational shift, there hasn’t been enough time. The intervening event is the gfc. I’ll suggest that the bailouts altered the perception of what money is at the managerial level. ‘Hard numbers’ and ‘the bottom line’ become meaningless when fiat is dispensed cui bono and material consequences are considered perverse. Robb on Boyd: “any organism that operates without reference to external stimuli (the real world), falls into a destructive cycle of false internal dialogues. These corrupt internal dialogues eventually cause dissolution and defeat.”

        This answer to your point is insufficient but perhaps useful. That was an important post.

        1. xkeyscored

          Not sure exactly what you’re getting at (you say articulating it isn’t easy), but here’s my take.

          Except when the 1 and the other 1 aren’t separated independent entities.
          For a couple in a household, considering unemployment, 1+1=5 or 10. In other words, they can maybe get by if one of them is unemployed, but if both are, they’re in trouble.
          I could go on with further examples galore, but you get the idea. Math is used to uncouple from the real. As is any tool to hand.

          I heard that one from a hippy. How true it is. The sooner we unite as an us, instead of a collection of ‘I’s, the better.

      3. Susan the other

        I was pretty sure someone would call me on the math comment. I can honestly say it that way because I’m a numerical nitwit of the first degree. I can’t imagine the nuances at all. I do believe you.

  5. skk

    Re: even after GED reforms. From a 2012 paper:

    GED recipients perform in the labor market, post-secondary schooling, the military, and, in general, society at a level very close to that of dropouts and below that of high school graduates.

    That statement puzzled me – it doesn’t accord with my intuition so I went to the paper mentioned. The statement is just a assertion in the paper, backed by a citation to another paper. The quoted paper is about something quite different : “This paper evaluates the effect of three different GED policy innovations on high school graduation rates.”

    The citation for where the assertion comes from is :

    Heckman JJ, Humphries JE, Mader N. The GED. In: Hanushek EA, Machin S, Wöffmann L, editors. Handbook of the Economics of Education. 9. Vol. 3. Amsterdam: North Holland, Elsevier; 2011. pp. 423–484. [Google Scholar] [Ref list]

    Now I’m not going to get to reading that anytime soon – what with it being a book and libraries being closed – so for some while it will remain a mystery statement to me. Pity, I’m kind of interested in the study behind that statement.

    1. rd

      I think some of it is similar to the conundrum of why expansion of the number of college graduates didn’t turn into a legion of high performing, high salary individuals.

      I think the really big knowledge worker expansion took place in the 50s-early 90s when the GI Bill, Brown v. Board of Education, Civil Rights Acts, Title IX, etc. blew open the gates of higher education to poorer people, minorities, and women.All of a sudden, you could put the top 20% of American students through college instead of the top 50% of white male upper class students. This tremendously widened the pool of capable people to contribute.

      However, GEDs and greatly increasing the number of middle tier high school grads going to college did not dramatically change the fundamental circumstances of those people and their capabilities. A GED certificate does not automatically make the person better at a job.Same with a college degree for a middling student. More focus on the content of what they are learning to be appropriate to their likely workforce role would be much more beneficial than the piece of paper. This lesson was made clear in the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” movie when the wizard gave the Scarecrow a diploma AFTER head figured out lots of things already.

      1. skk

        I wanted to to read the actual paper hoping it would define performance in more detail. The statement : perform in the labor market, post-secondary schooling, the military, and, in general, society conjures up widely varying meanings for perform for the various categories to me – in modern, lambert’s parlance, “perform” is doing a lot of work there !

        Then I wanted to see the methodology by which they compared dropouts to successful GEDs to failed GEDs to the rest of the populace controlling for various factors – if they did at all.

  6. doug

    The current situation shows why internet delivery should be a regulated utility in the USofA. No different from electricity and water. The idea that the school system has to buy 10,000 hot spots in one county near me is insane.

    1. Off The Street

      However, that does open up fascinating opportunities for connected insiders to invest in their communities, IYKWIM, AITYD. /s

  7. shinola

    Actual education is more than rote learning. I would argue that acquiring social skills & developing critical thinking abilities are just as important as learning abc’s & multiplication tables.

    Of course, there are those whose main concern is their own bottom line: “Just think of all the $avings if we didn’t have to pay (taxes) for teachers & physical facilities; don’t even have to pay to print workbooks – just put ’em on line.” This would be Koch bros. Utopia.

    On a personal note, I had several teachers along the way whose personal attention made a big difference in the way I viewed not only school but life in general.

    1. bulfinch

      I’ve long felt that we spend a disproportionate amount of our lives stuck in classrooms. As a GED recipient myself, I can tell you that the decision to drop out from my public high school was largely inspired by the shear drear of the thing, created both by the daily slog and the half-witted student body (half of which seemed half-out of their wits). Consolidating my two remaining years into a single afternoon of exam sitting was the best gift I ever gave myself.

      1. trhys

        I wonder if others such as you wouldn’t have benefited from the type of education available to elites; where class sizes are very small and students are guided to individual investigation.

        Or perhaps a good trade oriented school in which one uses head as well as hands. And using one’s hands is also using one’s head; a fact not appreciated by many in the credentialed class.

  8. Bazarov

    I teach writing and reading at a major American university–due to the virus, the remainder of the semester is online.

    Online learning is nowhere near as effective as the in-person variety for a lot of reasons, but I’ll present some of the most important here:

    1.) It’s like trying to teach through a crystal ball. I’m just a floating head on a screen to them.

    2.) The crystal ball they’re viewing me through has a million other “channels” with other floating heads competing for the student’s attention. These crystal balls, laptops and smart phones mostly, are in fact made to siphon attention like a life-stealing leech (that’s how the tech companies get their clicks). You cannot teach a student if you can’t get their attention.

    3.) The “crystal ballness” is a two way street. They’re just floating heads to me. I have no control over their surrounding environment, meaning that even if I could somehow “turn off” the attention-syphoning features of modern devices, I could not “turn off” the attention-syphoning features of their physical environment. For all I know, the students’ siblings are dancing around just outside the range of their webcams!

    4.) Online learning wards the “magic spell” that facilitates learning. The classroom is a powerful cultural space–like a church. When I enter, I’m no longer my private identity–I become a teacher. When they enter, they’re no longer their private identities–they become students. We all take our special places in the ritual chamber. I stand, they sit. All this happens automatically, and it is hard overstate how much this magic spell facilitates learning. The online space has none of that magic–it’s flat and sterile. It’s associations are rather crass: porn, shit-posting, watching animal videos. It’s a casual space of anonymity. The classroom, by comparison, is scared and naturally elicits respect.

    I could say more, but I’ll keep it at that.

    That’s not to say that I’m some luddite. Digital tools, as used as part of the physical classroom, are quite useful–I love the projector, for example, and I love the centralized webpage my students can access to get any documents they need.

    Honestly, however, the most useful tool in my experience remains the boring old chalkboard.

    1. David

      I agree. I was doing some online teaching this morning. There are areas where it’s certainly better than nothing. I can’t think of any where it’s better than face to face teaching .It encourages rote memorization and passive assimilation of information, because real interaction is much more difficult.

    2. L

      I have to say much the same. I am working with my students as best I can and I have no desire to leave them in the lurch but as bad as they can be in the classroom (laptops open to other things) they are more engaged with the material and we are more connected to each other than a video on a small screen. The only students who do well are those who were already doing great, and even then they are getting less than they need.

      I think that the providers giving out free samples are hoping we will all find it so much more attractive to stay home and use their tools but speaking for myself it is a massive loss of quality and engagement, and a massive elevation in distraction.

    3. JohnnyGL

      Point #4 is very good.

      If you dump something ‘online’, instead of directly addressing it in person, you’re signalling, “this isn’t that important and doesn’t need to be taken seriously”

      This is true at the office, as well. If there’s a very serious matter to be dealt with, email doesn’t cut it. Conference calls, individual calls, in person meetings, 1-on-1 meetings are each a more escalatory non-verbal means to communicate the gravity of the matter.

      Back to school….if you tell me that learning is just going to be online, not in person, then it’s a signal that we don’t care about it.

    4. ChrisPacific

      This is a good summary. If we had to manage my son’s education online at home, I’m pretty sure we could do it, but I’m under no illusions about what would be lost if we did.

      In our case, my son is never going to have any issues with the core of reading, writing and mathematics, because we are both good at those and good at recognizing and encouraging his impulses in that direction. So my wife will pick up books she sees that match his current interests, or he’ll write posters about his favorite games to stick up on the walls, or he’ll realize that quizzing me on mathematics problems is a guaranteed way to gain parental attention. (He would probably be just as good a reader as he is now even if he never went to school). What we can’t provide, and what he really needs more than those things, is all the social interaction and learning that comes from being in that kind of environment – self-regulation, managing negative emotions, cooperation and compromise, different personality styles and how to interact with them, finding fun and fulfilment in an environment where there are constraints on what you can do, and so on. In my day that all happened below the radar, but now teachers recognize it as important and teach for it explicitly, so if there is an incident or something in class then they can talk through with the student how they handled it, give them a targeted worksheet with some tools they can try, and so on. I could maybe teach him some of that stuff, but without the context it would probably be about as effective as trying to learn to play basketball by reading a book.

      Essentially the classroom environment serves as a big laboratory for life where they can figure out how to learn and interact together in a safe setting where constructive feedback is available and consequences are limited and geared towards personal improvement. This is the biggest thing you lose if you move away from classroom based learning, and I think it’s important enough that we would have to find other ways to achieve it if school wasn’t there to do it for us. That in turn would probably be sufficiently costly in terms of time, money and attention that it would become another vector of inequality.

      1. John

        Betsy DeVos and her ilk want someone to make a profit from education. Others, and maybe Betsy as well, want to make a profit from the “health care industry.” (I consider that usage almost an obscenity.) Congress just waved a wand and two trillion dollars appeared and yet school budgets are squeezed and squeezed. If you want to reduce the costs of public education, look first at the administrative overhead. Bureaucracy has a place but it grows, metastasizes, and it never shrinks. This would be an excellent time to do that.

        I am completing my 59th year as a teacher and doing it remotely. Teachers are working harder now than they did at the first of the year.It is better than nothing, but it does not replace the classroom. I lean toward the Platonic ideal of a teacher at one end of a log and a student at the other. I prefer books to screens. I do not think there is a substitute for reading. I do not think there is a substitute for an active imagination stimulated by kids making up their own amusements or just sitting and finding the shapes in the clouds.

        We are living in a slow motion avalanche; a calamity whose dimensions are only dimly visible and the wound to education is not the least part of the price.

  9. Widowson

    The cynic in me immediately saw education’s COVID-19-fueled remove to the virtual realm as a long-game administrative power grab and further evidence of the precariousness of teachers today. I teach as an adjunct at a NH-based technical community college, and just last month received an SEIU-sanctioned employee agreement that would see my $2K/semester adjunct salary get reduced proportionately should my classes have fewer than 7 students enrolled in them, e.g. 6 students means I get 90% of my salary, 5 students means I get 80% of my salary, etc. I suspect that administrators do not see their salaries reduced proportionately a week or two before each semester based on overall enrollment, but that is the sorry lot of us adjuncts, I guess. I am fortunate that I don’t really “need” this money– or not yet anyway as I’m still gainfully employed as a consulting services salesman– but I have kept with this teaching gig as a way to give back to my profession and to the students despite the poor hourly compensation that it works out to be; truth be told I also get “free” MS Office and Adobe cloud software, too, although I despise the whole could-based SAAS model to boot.

    I hope they offer me the reduction just before next semester and I hope I’m still in the position to tell them to stuff it.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said.

      There was a virtual town hall where I work a fortnight ago. Our senior management, based at Frankfurt HQ, rejoiced at how over two thirds of the staff are working from home. They said they plan to build on that and work with partners and clients to further facilitate that in financial services and other fields. My colleagues are oblivious of the danger.

  10. L

    There is also a strong political dimension. Most wannabe DeVos’ see this as their opportunity to break school districts, create statewide schools etc. In Alaska, for example, the Gov just awarded a no-bid contract to a florida online school (that is close to DeSantis and facing allegations of fraud) for a “turnkey all online system” despite the fact that there already is a state-run all online school. The difference is this one is beholden only to him.

  11. sd

    Online learning – so how does this work when it comes to classes like biology and chemistry? Do you keep your dissected worms and frog in the kitchen fridge? For chemistry – is the range the new bunsen burner? And I’m wondering about physics ed – how do you play team sports like basketball and volleyball? Or theater – is Shakespeare now done by Zoom?

  12. Mikel

    Online courses are already offered. No reason to make it one-size fits all.
    Both can exist together. The “socializing” at schools can be toxic for many youths. Meanwhile, the environment at home can be toxic to others.

    Why the flying pig does everything have to “everybody does the same thing, all the time?”

  13. JohnnyGL

    So far, as a parent of two younger kids, I can tell you that

    Online Learning = Do-It-Yourself home school

    Juggling keeping kids doing something constructive while attempting to function as an employee means doing neither of those things particularly well.

    It’s become clear that school systems are phoning it in for the rest of this year. I think they’ll try to do some kind of summer school, if things loosen up, but that’s only a bandaid.

    Like a lot of other areas, it’s only going to exacerbate the existing inequalities we’re seeing in society.

  14. Synoia

    School teaches socialization, 8 to 12 hours a day, above academics, four to six hours a day.

    I suspect the internet is a poor teacher of socialization.

    If remote learning is effective, please remote education aficionados, explain how it could teach a baby human.

  15. chuck roast

    Online learning! Man, how did I miss that?

    In high school I had an attractive young English teacher that was clearly a party girl. She would tool into the parking lot in her Nash Metropolitan and stagger into the building. We would all snicker when she blundered into the classroom and dropped her teaching materials down on the desk. Top of the hour…she was ready to rock…gerunds, past participles, verb modifiers and like that. She never missed a thing.

    I had no interest what any of those things were. They were not gonna’ help me find a nice, malleable Italian girl. I got 20’s and 30’s on all of the tests where we had to ID the nouns, verbs, pronouns ad nauseam. But I would almost ace all the essays. Almost because I never new a colon from a comma. I still don’t. Of course she was infuriated, but she had to give me a C for the course because I could write.

    My imagination is no longer vivid enough to conjure what a little downwardly mobile retard like me could have done in Senior English online learning!

  16. anon in so cal

    At the college level, online courses represent an ever-increasing percentage of all courses taught, at least in my system. Imho, it works well for many courses. I’ve been using a flipped classroom approach for a while and the in-class discussion and problem-solving sessions can shift fairly readily to zoom or to the course discussion boards. However, shifting everything online, involuntarily, presents problems for some demographics who may not have home internet or necessary equipment. The issue being grappled with now concerns how to proceed with grading. Should students be permitted to opt for CR if their grades fall into a certain range….

  17. Ook

    Exactly. There’s a psychological and social aspect to talking to a screen; you’re missing most everything that matters.
    I studied physics at university. One would think that this would be an ideal subject for learning online, but now, over 30 years later, the only thing I remember is the interactions with my teachers and fellow students. These things shaped me much more than the actual studies, most of which had to be done alone with a book anyway.

  18. HotFlash

    I do online learning all the time, and I am a perpetual student at the University of YouTube. I have been long critical of the educational system, which, IMNSHO, tries to force-feed kids with information they are not ready for (ie, don’t see the desirablity of).

    Meanwhile, I cherish the education I had, especially high school, which to my great and totally undeserved good fortune, was a school that was a pet project of the Archbishop. It involved seven parishes in the area and the teachers, mostly nuns, were from 5 different orders and the cream of the crop. Our math teach had studied with Emmy Noether, she probably also had a doctorate, I never heard. Our science teachers all had doctorates, I found out later. Our biology teacher’s was in exobiology, our music teacher was a composer and had been Stevie Wonder’s first music teacher at the Detroit Institute for the Blind. Ton ‘o highly credentialed and high-powered ladies, and I didn’t find out how high-powered until many years later.

    We called them all “Sister”, had no idea that it should have been “Doctor Sister”. Our Latin teacher had been an actress in her younger days, and our English teacher had been a ladies billiards champion in Ohio. Quite the crew…

    But here is the thing: these ladies, they loved us. Even if Sr. JA did throw BA into a wastebasket. It didn’t hurt him, she only did it once, he richly deserved it, and she got his attention.

    But to my point. What these ladies gave to us was us, one by one. They helped each of us, they thought about each of us, they encouraged each of us, they befriended us, they fought for us and when push came to shove, Sr. ME taught us how to fudge experiment results (a most valuable lesson!), Sr. HR gave mouth-to-mouse resuscitation to a poor rodent that the Bad Boys had suffocated (a life-example I have never forgotten). They found our strengths and celebrated them, they knew our weaknesses and taught us to reform them or work around them, they encouraged us when we were discouraged and found ways to interest us when we were bored or overwhelmed. Oh, and they weren’t all perfect, another valuable life lesson.

    I am horrified to the pit of my stomach at the idea of the young of our species being raised by machines. The result can only be machines, not humans.

  19. Bewildered parent

    Spending more time with my 6th grader- She’s on the advanced track in this competition to skip grade levels. She said these teachers are trying to cram knowledge into traumatized kids like an experiment. Some will be millionaires, some will kill themselves, and some might be just OK.

    1. HotFlash

      Jeez, mr/ms parent. My father ‘skipped’ two grades back in the 20s/30s, back when that was a thing. He told me that the schoolwork part was fine, but the emotional development was not so fine. He told me that when we were watching “Real Genius”, which I recommend to everyone, along with “Top Secret”.

      1. xkeyscored

        Yes, I can agree with that. Had I not skipped grades though, there’s every likelihood I’d have become totally bored with and alienated from my schools and teachers, turning to a criminal career. (I felt as a kid one of my schools’ main aims was indoctrination, which I took strong exception to, but without totally rejecting the education side of it.)
        As things stand, I’m far from being a millionaire, still alive, and arguably doing OK for a change.

    2. catsick

      Skipping grades is a very very bad idea, makes the parents feel good and gives them something to brag about, meanwhile has the potential to help turn the kid into the Unabomber …

    3. Angie Neer

      My son qualified for that track, but after sitting through the sales pitch given by teachers and his would-be classmates—frighteningly hard-driving middle schoolers—he, my wife and I agreed it was not the right environment for him. When I told parents of his classmates that we would not be putting him in the program, they seemed to regard that as just this side of criminal neglect. He’s now 25, doing well in academic pursuits, and has mentioned how glad he was to have avoided it.

  20. xkeyscored

    I agree with Gordon Lafer that online teaching will likely be another nail in the coffin of US education, an acceleration of the crapification of everything. But he seems to imply that the internet companies behind it are against creativity, using their platforms to foist a one size fits all approach, which I don’t see. I’m getting to grips with Google Classroom, Loom and Zoom (Gloom and Doom for short), and there are numerous ways to use them, including group and pair work and all sorts of buttons and features I haven’t figured out yet. Of course it’s not the same as face-to-face teaching, and it requires a computer and internet so it’s not for the poor, but I don’t feel these platforms are attempting to restrict my creativity at all. Quite the contrary, they’re testing it, forcing me out of a rut and making me come up with ways to use this technology productively.

    US education has been in decline for a while, long before it went online. I think the technology is quite promising, and whether it’s used to improve or dismantle schooling depends on the government, teachers and many others besides digital tech companies.

  21. Wukchumni

    One thing that went away was the art of rote memory skills for our young. Why remember something when a computer can do it for you?

    Lets get away from that, and embrace old school learning. It’ll be something entirely new for the students.

  22. Blue Pilgrim

    I dropped out of high school because I couldn’t stand the authoritarianism, fascism, anti-intellectualism, prohibition of critical thinking, gross stupidity, incuriousness, and ignorance in the system, dishonesty, and dehumanization — about the same reasons I never did well in the corporate, capitalist world later on. That was 55 years ago and from what I gather, from news, from kids I knew, and a few course at a local community college, it’s only gone downhill since then.

    What is often called ‘socialization’ is just indoctrination in and subjugation to the capitalist and imperialist propaganda and myth of US exceptionalism. I didn’t ‘drop out’; I escaped, and for the disruption in trying to live a reasonable life financially (or in social networking) since then, I only wish I could have done it ten years earlier and avoided grammar school altogether. My main regret was how hard and expensive it was to get good informational resources and build a library, before we had anything like the internet, open access journals or university courses, or solid educational sites (such as which covers the virology and sars-cov-2 virus updates with TWiV, other biological topics, or the videos of Vincent Racaniello’s course in virology at Columbia). Of course one also gets no credentials, even while becoming knowledgeable, unless one submits to about the same nonsense as in regular schools, for very substantial credentials. The pervasive US culture is ignorant and stupid, and designed to keep the masses mystified.

  23. Pym of Nantucket

    My two cents as a university professor :

    There are too many daisy chains and middlemen between the demand for education (the beneficiaries are society as a whole and the student specifically) and the education itself.

    Resources get diverted into many “good works” or “God’s work” along the way by actors often pretending to be working for the common or students’ good when they’re just supporting their personal bias around their own value as an individual. Students and society pour a lot of resources into Universities mostly seeking undergraduate education in return, and the university spreads that around a myriad of activities unrelated to undergraduate teaching.

    The main diversion is research, which into itself is a very valuable activity but should be funded by transparent lines toward research goals directed to whoever seeks those research outcomes. By all means, fund lots of research, but not via covert pipelines supported by networks of winks and nods within the university.

    If you work in a university you would see a lot of the research is mediocre and nobody would fund it if it were a line item in a budget. The omnibus funding of many many activities is taking away from education. Because the social hierarchy at universities favours research, professors eschew the lowly task of teaching to pursue their saintly research, which is often not good enough to stand alone.

    In general there needs to be less stage magic where university funds come in to fund education and once in the system are diverted to the institution mission creep. Apart from low quality research, there is a growing cohort of educrat mandarins coming up with all sorts of new tasks, who never come in contact with students.

    In general I think universities are too big, and online learning is a way to spend less on teaching and more on internal pork and butter, publicity stunts and bureaucratic red tape. Good education happens face-to-face and we can afford it if fewer non-educators siphon resources between point A and point B.

Comments are closed.