Education has always been high on my list of very important things. I’ve been lucky enough to take part in some seriously alternative (srsly alt) forms of education myself, and I’ve come to discover even more in the past couple of years. From Waldorf to unschooling to Montessori, (the kind of school I’ve been in most of my life) there are countless theories about the right way to facilitate learning, and more that are being born in impromptu and unofficial schoolhouses all over the world right now. Although I’m interested in all of these, the education trend that has caught my attention the most recently is that of online learning.
We’ve come a long way from online diploma mills, people. What started as brick-and-mortar universities’ attempts to offer credits to distant students has turned into a full-fledged educational revolution.
While those online university courses still exist, (they’re downright commonplace) the further extent of online learning is much more fascinating. Websites dedicated to helping “students” learn specific skills or to simulating a classroom dialogue experience are becoming more and more popular among people seeking to gain more than what their however many years of schooling offered them. There’s Coursera and Udacity, directed towards more traditional lecture-style learning. OpenCulture is a syndicate of all things educational available on the Web. Khan Academy, the best known and most used self-teaching online tool online, is a finely tuned, thorough resource for teaching yourself any kind of math that exists (Salman Khan, the “teacher” at Khan Academy, has three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard, so you could say he knows math pretty well). Additionally, there are countless less structured and/or more specialized websites and video series like TED and Philosophy Bro, two of my favorites. The fact that such a wealth of free learning tools now exists is, for lack of a better word, awesome.
So now I guess I should actually come to the point of all of this. I threw out the term “educational revolution” up there, something that might seem a little extreme for talking about a few unoffending educational websites. Maybe I’m inflating the good intention and meaningfulness of these websites to an extent, but I know for a fact that there are others like me out there who aren’t happy with the status quo of education in this country, and who are looking for alternatives. An alternative that just might take the form of online educational tools.
So while I’m saying borderline extreme things, let me go ahead and say something I’ve always thought: the public education system in this country is the most corrupt, counterproductive, and inane institution I’ve ever encountered. It constantly confuses me that we trust the same organization that brings you fuck-ups like the invasion of Iraq and holy crap is gay marriage seriously still not legal? with the education of all our citizens. But let me step off the soapbox before I start waxing politic too much, and talk some more about this alternative.
If it seems to you that you/your child are/is not getting much out of school, why sit on your hands and complain about it? With the vast array of resources that are now available to everyone with an Internet connection, there’s no need to simply be content with what you’re learning in school. Who says that school is teaching us the things really worth knowing, anyway?
I am hopeful that the people out there using Coursera and Khan Academy and all those other sites are alike in the mindset that a person’s education is something that they should be in charge of. I’m also hopeful that this mindset becomes more popular, and quickly, because the only consequence I can see is the production of more educated and driven people. And I don’t think anybody can take issue with that.
We live in an era open-minded enough that I don’t think anybody’s going to gasp at me talking shit about public education on some blog. I’d even say that most people agree that things need to change in that system. But action is the issue here, and that’s what I’m talking about. We all know that the public ed system needs a serious overhaul (or just to crawl into a hole and die), but that change isn’t going to happen unless we take serious action towards showing the powers that be that we’re not going to abide by the way things are anymore. And just like a consumer’s decision to buy a better alternative rather than the standard brand, choosing an alternative method of education is sure to send a message that the standard brand just isn’t good enough. And that is a message that I definitely want to send.