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The revolution in schooling: Internet offers parents, students a new way to learn

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Posted: Friday, August 24, 2012 12:17 am | Updated: 10:37 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Community Perspective

FAIRBANKS — To get your children into classrooms that take into account their individual needs is a daunting task for parents.

Take my son, who entered first grade able to read. His first-grade teacher put him in a seat at the back during reading time, telling him to read by himself. My son spent most of this time fooling around. 

“I want to spend my instructional time with children who can’t read,” his teacher self-righteously told me when I said that my son needed reading instruction, too.

After my many attempts to get my son into the right reading class had failed, I gave up and put him in a Catholic school.

This school carefully tested my son in reading before assigning him to a class. The school found defects in his reading abilities and put him into a classroom where he got the instruction he needed. 

The Internet has brought new, exciting and convenient opportunities for parents who want the best schooling for their children.

Some pundits even think the Internet can become a one-stop shop for education.

“We have the technology, the people and the institutions we need to usher an on-line education revolution,” writes Yale professor of computer science, David Gelernter in The Wall Street Journal.

In his article “The Friendly Neighborhood Internet School,” Gelernter offers a vision of schools in the future. 

But we don’t have to wait for any future. Parents can use his ideas right now to improve the education of their children.

Gelernter says we should close large, multi-grade schools and substitute small neighborhood schools. (In Alaska, we already have such schools in many small communities, and some work well while others do not, depending on the characteristics of the community.) 

The teacher in charge of the Internet school would manage online classes, track children’s progress and help with their personal needs, like sending them home if they get sick.

The online courses would be taught by master teachers who know their subjects so well that they could make difficult material clear and exciting.

Such an Internet school would not consist solely of canned courses. Tutors and knowledgeable people from the community would work with the children.

“A huge number of people are willing and able to help children in some topic for a few hours a week, but can’t or won’t teach full time: college and graduate students and retirees, lawyers, accountants, stay-at home parents and professors,” Gelernter writes. 

While he sees such internet schools as schools of the future, parents can use these ideas right now to educate their children — and themselves. 

The Internet offers a wealth of educational resources, such as color visualizations of brain development. 

Such quality education does not even have to come through the Internet. Every evening my husband and I watch a DVD lecture series from The Teaching Company on subjects such as literature, history and biology. 

The Teaching Company scours the country for the very best professors, selecting only one in 5,000 possibilities. The professors present their courses in about 30 carefully prepared, half-hour lectures.

You can find similar educational resources on the Internet, including many free podcasts by great professors. 

When my children were in elementary school, I did just what Gelernter recommends — going to the school a couple of times a week and teaching a small group of children (including my own).

We moved a few chairs into the hallway so I had a quiet place to teach.

I ordered science kits so that the children could do hands-on experiments. 

My husband created an economics course for elementary school children. He selected interesting paragraphs from economists like Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics.

The children read the original sources in “small bites.” 

My teaching job was to help the children understand the concepts by drawing on their personal experience.

When my own children were young, the Internet did not exist. Now it’s a lot easier to get the highest-quality teaching materials individualized for a particular child. 

Judith Kleinfeld, a longtime columnist for the Daily News-Miner, holds a doctorate from Harvard and is a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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