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writing for godot

What’s Good About K-12 Online Education? Lots!

Written by barellis   
Friday, 04 September 2020 16:51

What’s Good About K-12 Online Education? Lots!


By Barbara G. Ellis

05 September 20

One of my Oregon State University faculty colleagues over in the College of Education shocked me a few years ago by predicting that the time would come when students would be able to pop into the bookstore and rent a video of most courses in the catalogue. Because one hugely popular course at OSU (“Rocks & Stars”) had two sections each with over 1,500 students), warehousing videos for that class alone made his prediction unbelievable.

But he was on the right track because COVID-19 closed most of the nation’s schools in March and remote education via online courses took over. The pandemic’s toll by mid-August was 5,340,232 cases, 168,696 deaths , of which more than 338,000 were children and 86 were dead. Science magazine pointed out that:

Several studies have found that overall, people under age 18 are between one-third and one-half as likely as adults to contract the virus.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) added that those under 14 aren’t the highestportion of U.S. infections and deaths, but certainly are the leading factor in spreading the virus at home and community, according to a study about that spike last spring.

So  half of each state’s school districts will continue online home-based schooling this fall. This despite President Trump’s command that all schools reopen now so that parents will return to unsafe jobs to ensure business profits—or he’ll cut funds for the disobedient school districts. One recent suggestion was holding classes outdoors , something conducive to hot discussions about cold climates.

Inadvertently supporting him was a group of educators highly critical of online courses even on a temporary basis. They strongly indicated it spelled the ruin of K-12 education.

Really? Not historically, nor the present when K-12 was shifted to “remote” (i.e., online) education in students’ homes. And not to hundreds of prestigious colleges and universities such as Harvard, MIT, University of California/Berkley , thousands of community colleges, and both public/private K-12 schools. Indeed, the virus has forced institutions like Portland State University to temporarily switch this  Fall term to ”a substantial number of fully online courses.”

What’s not to like about remote online-based education?

The greatest benefit today for the “home-scholars” is that they will avoid schools’ high-risk potential of COVID and either its lifelong after-effects or death, especially if masks and distancing are not mandated or enforced and old ventilation systems are not replaced to siphon off airborne droplets.

Nationwide teachers’ strike threatened to save lives

So dangerous are underfunded schools that teachers are staging sick-outs to save their lives. Indeed, Trump’s additional threat to cut districts’ funding unless schools reopened that at least 300,000 teachers, school staffs, and parents are ready to stage a nationwide strike againstreopenings and risking death or the plague’s post-treatment ailments.

Add the fact is that some of the online teachers working in safe quarters have done superb work in presenting difficult subjects like math and the sciences for over 100 years. For example, classroom films of the 1940s picked up where military training films left off such as WWI’s vital how-to-don-a-gas-mask, and provided Encyclopaedia Britannica expertise most K-12 teachers didn’t have.

Television’s advent turned those films into university-level courses for credit, starting in 1953 and still enabling student access to major experts in many fields. New York University/ CBS’s popular 6 a.m. Sunrise Semester , for instance, offered a Henry James course taught by Leon Edel, the great authority on that author. That led to videos which spawned “distance” or “remote” learning” for all kinds of classes, K-college and beyond.

For small-fry, PBS’s Sesame Street debuted in 1969 . It’s still teaching counting, the alphabet, science, and social skills. Using puppets instead of humans prevents clothes and hairstyles from the distraction of dating the episodes.

In 2005, Google’s YouTube was born, creating classroom platforms for K-12 curriculums in which units and single lectures can be repeated with a few taps on a computer keyboard. In the sciences, a syndicate still offers Cleveland State University’s hilarious and brilliant Dr. Jearl Walker’s The Flying Circus of Physics series. It translates complex concepts—friction and adhesion to light speed and velocity—by using household objects like spoons, eggs, pencils, and teapots.

Another great advantage of online lessons is that students not able to sit in the front in regular classes, are close to a teacher when online. They don’t have to strain to hear a lesson and can see white-board illustrations and key points.

In short, my colleague’s forecast has come true big-time with online education—without using an inch of bookstore space—huge positive impact for public education of millions. COVID forced almost all the nation’s schools to shut down by March for the rest of the term and switch to home-based online sessions . Most districts signed up with one of the more than 450 commercial providers (as of June) of K-12 platforms for an entire online curriculum used, say, in Portland, Maine with “Google Classroom”  and Portland, Oregon with “Remind” .

True, the heaviest burden in remote schooling today depends on parental control of their children’s education whether able or not to supervise subjects many knew nothing about or dreaded their children’s discovery parents or caretakers were fallen idols.

Most districts made a laptop available per family or relied on parents having tablets or wifi so students could access online classes. These were augmented by teachers sending homework packets and tests.

Pediatric experts warn about COVID spread in fall

Worried pediatric experts writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association issued grave warnings about what would happen if the virus increased in intensity and spread beyond summer. Millions of parents, teachers, and students were fretting about this same issue:

“School closures have many profound consequences on children that cannot be overlooked. These include regressions in academic gains, heightened depression and anxiety symptoms, greater digital dependence, and numerous unmet social needs.”

Working-class parents had no such luxury as hiring tutors at $12-40 an hour . Millions of two-income households were minus a job and the healthcare coverage which went with it. They also were suddenly forced into supervising online education for more than one child. High school students had to educate themselves, but still could contact a teacher for help on assignments.

Though low-income parents’ paramount concern was also preventing their children’s exposure to COVID, they can hardly be blamed for the fear or fury initially at this added responsibility suddenly thrust upon them for which they had no training and perhaps even less interest.

Outside of this preliminary anguish or outrage, after a spring of online home “tutoring,” parents by now are experiencing the small benefits of savings of lunch money and on gas by not having to drive kids to and from school.  Many will have developed a new respect andappreciation for in-person teaching, traditional homeschooling—and online education.

For years homeschooling has been endlessly denigrated without much proof that it limits learning, lacks peer socialization, and the crucially important “toughing-up” experience by fists or failures essential to survive in a competitive world. There, any emphasis on kindness and fostering fellowship are for losers.

That world, of course, has been deliberately designed for centuries to weed out competitors, no less today from America’s K-college demographic, especially in the sciences and technology. Both Edison and Tesla escaped the world’s “rubber yardstick” measurements perhaps because homeschooling has far different values and standards. Chiefly, it’s been independent learning and thinking instead of lockstep, teach-to-the-test structure.

The major fault usually found about homeschooling seems to be the perceptions of narrow learning and heavy emphasis on religion. But that’s not true at all. Recent findings indicate that because homeschooling is far less stressful than public/private education, it has far greater academic success. The latest comparative study measuring performance at 140 credible colleges/universities between 732 homeschooled from K-12 levels and equal numbers from public/private schools, reported:

“…without controlling for any demographics, homeschool students had, on average, a higher high school GPA, a higher SAT score, and a higher first-year of college GPA.”

Homeschooled have high self-esteem, different values

As for competing in a dog-eat-dog world, most homeschoolers march to a different tune with a stronger stride and a far higher sense of self-esteem than peers in schools. Those now joining their ranks to avoid COVID contagion will discover that the only academic competition they’ll experience is for a “personal best” in mastering material.

Because I once taught high school English in a consolidated, impoverished district, I don’t need to cite references about the disadvantages and dangers inhibiting learning in somehomes. True, the environment might be noisy, abusive, selfish siblings, or contain addicts in addition to disinterested or negligent parents as “substitute teachers.”

However, such households are exceptions and scarcely represent most homes. At the outset, parents new to “distance learning” might take comfort from the parents of the homeschooled Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla , the electrical geniuses of the late 1800s. Both men credited their mothers for their successes, by the way.

Edison’s mother was illiterate, but provided him with affection, attention, and constant encouragement. Tesla’s mother did the same. She was an inventor of household appliances who inspired his accomplishments. Edison was homeschooled because of genetic hearing defects , but both had such feisty, curious natures and genius that they proved to be too much for the local schools to handle.

With the freedom of homeschooling , Edison taught himself to read and set up his first lab in the basement. He strongly believed that schools’ emphasis on discipline and rote learning “casts the brain into a mold,” stifling creativity. It discourages questioning both teacher and textbook material. His view was that schools of any kind blocked “original thought or reasoning” that comes to children “by observing nature and making things with their hands.”

Now one of the five “guiding principles” many educators advocate to parents for these home-bound scholars is:

“Hands-on learning must be maximized through activities such as "reading actual books, writing by hand, art, movement, outdoor play, real-world math projects, and nature exploration.”

Most COVID “refugees” should find relief in the simplification of school life, however brief, in the freedom from taunts and torments of the sanctified “socialization” process supposedly provided only in schools. Right now, most kids certainly miss their day-to-day in-person contact with friends. But like their parents who also miss friends and family, they have been using cell phones, emails, and social media to stay in touch daily.

As to online education at home robbing kids of peer socialization, any graduate of public/private schools knows that for centuries it’s always been one of the most damaging features for millions. Snobbish K-12 cliques rule social life even for athletic and GPA standouts. They cruelly and blatantly start by sorting kindergarteners into status tiers most will suffer until high school graduation and at class reunions even if they become rich and famous.

Wealth and/or privilege have always been the main basis for this eternal tier system. Those relegated to the bottom usually are the poor and those who refuse to “fit in.” They may lack social skills, wear Goodwill clothes, are “slow learners” and seen as physically unattractive. Other factors are gender, race, and religion. Bottom tiers are expected to swallow such bigotry because “life’s not fair, but not always to your disadvantage,” a patronizing quote attributed to the privileged, top-tiered president John F. Kennedy . How to avenge those slings and arrows is detailed in Ralph Keyes humorous best-selling book Is There Life After High School?

Bullying is part of the tier system and also has existed since antiquity’s first schoolyard. After the 1886 advent of school buses (carriages), bullying continued at bus stops and rides to and from home. But it still exists in classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, and particularly in restrooms.

In other words, perhaps the only “tier system” encountered at home will be from older siblings who can be disciplined by family caretakers.

Online ‘refugees’ freer, safer than public/private schools

And these “refugees” will be free and safer from much, much more that is always present in public/private schools.

No need of hall passes to leave class for the restroom. Being able to talk when they please, including arguing with a parent’s viewpoint or online presentations without fear of scorn or embarrassment. Wearing what they want, to eat while studying, taking impromptu breaks for a walk or to shoot hoops (impossible in schools), and going to the toilet whenever. Confrontations may happen with parents or family members, but never by menacing hall monitors, principals, coaches, or school police—or a Columbine killer.

True, eyestrain from focusing on screens for hours is a significant health hazard for both the new or regularly homeschooled. But so is spending hours poring over textbooks and research for assignments.

Turn next to other academic advantages for those schooled by online education.

One factor rarely ever mentioned which hobbles students from the start in public/private schools is school records. Many contain teachers’ biased remarks about students’ intellectual-competence, classifying them as geniuses or dumbbells. They can prejudice teachers inheriting them for the next grade and seem set in concrete from K-12, judging from those I saw for seniors in my high-school teaching at rural and urban schools. Homeschoolers are only judged by a parent or sibling who, in truth, might be biased initially, but recognize change is always possible.

Learning styles may actually be enhanced by parental tailoring.

Homeschooling parents—veterans or newcomers—have known their childrens’ learning styles from babyhood, especially if disabled. They can automatically tailor subject material to each child’s needs.

In past, teacher training recommended only three styles, often giving short shrift to two with the axiom of: “Tell me something and I’ll forget it. Show me something and I may notremember it. But involve me in something and I’ll remember it forever.” Today, styles have expanded to eight types : visual, aural, verbal, social, logical, physical and tactile, solitary, and naturalistic.

The truth is that in K-12 classrooms, most teachers have never had the time or inclination to tailor learning styles of 20 to 35 students to each. Because 65 percent of students are visualtypes and do best with the written word and illustrations, the entire class usually gets that one-style-fits-all approach.

This is certainly noticeable in math and science instruction that’s rigidly geared to logicallearners. The rest become convinced for a lifetime they’re “dumb” in math or science. Many “logical” physics teachers frown on colleagues like Jearl Walker for either “sensationalizing” or “dumbing down” the subject for non-science students. But what’s so wrong with that? Answer: It slows and hinders the education of a handful of budding Einsteins and Oppenheimers.


The best teachers will shunt the brilliant into online advanced seminars and for the rest, they’ll choose online courses “popularizing” science and arithmetic all the way up to physics and trigonometry.

Additionally, like the one-room school of the 1800s, younger kids tend to eavesdrop on older siblings’ online courses and, later, whiz through them. And like those one-room schools, an older sibling might well “sub” for a parent in teaching the youngest.

Another perceived major fault of online education is the recent accusation by some educators that much of the fare is biased and includes propaganda unacceptable to a majority of parents and school boards. But so is fare from media channels such as FOXNews or NBC, ABC watched by parents and school board members. And don’t most parents let children watch Nickelodeon, Disney, Apple TV, or HBO Max—all equally guilty of bias and propaganda?

Besides, censorship for the young has been going on long before Athens’ leaders forced Socrates’ execution in 399BCE for impiety and teaching youth disrespect for authority. The Catholic index of forbidden books lasted from 1599 until 1966. Add post-1960 firings of English teachers daring to assign J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye as supplementary reading. It was the most censured book in U.S. high schools between 1961-82, rivaling Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for characters’ poor grammar, truancy, defiance of acceptable behavior, and particularly racism.

Textbook publishers and platform owners aren’t fools. Those with sizable orders from states’ purchasing departments have always told us textbook authors to omit viewpoints and examples which could be controversial. Many online-education producers may have censors like the movie Cinema Paradiso ’s bell-ringing priest demanding splice-outs of kissing scenes.

Online education may be damned by many teachers, parents, observers, psychologists, and students. But during this COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a godsend to them all and is fast becoming a major and lasting learning tool in this country. For many K-college students, online education will be a basic springboard triggering curiosity into far wider studies, as it did Edison and Tesla.

For K-12 students, online education certainly reaches far beyond the rigidity of lock-step teaching-to-the-test education which most public and private students have endured for generations. And gone is the cruelty and humiliation of the tier “socialization” system used by both peers and too many teachers.

So in sum, what’s not to like about online schooling if education is truly the objective of K-college?


Barbara G. Ellis, Ph.D., is the principal of a Portland (OR) writing/pr firm. A veteran professional writer and editor (LIFE magazine, the Portland (OR) Reporter, Beirut Daily Star, Mideast Magazine), she also was a journalism professor (Oregon State University/ Louisiana’s McNeese State University), and a high school English teacher,  author of a best-selling textbook (4 editions) How to Write Themes and Term Papers. Author of dozens of articles for magazines and online websites, she was a nominee for a Pulitzer Prize in history (The Moving Appeal). Today, she contributes to Truthout and CounterPunch, and has contributed to DissidentVoiceGlobal Research, and OpEdNews, as well as being a political and environmental activist. your social media marketing partner
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