Internet School is an idea Silicon Valley could embrace

Yale professor David Gelernter’s offers a nice seed of an idea for a local Internet school in an op-ed piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. (And it’s refreshing, by the way, to see an op-ed piece in the WSJ that doesn’t directly beat-up teachers because they often belong to unions.)

His notion of  a modern one-room school house, filled with 20 or so 6th through 12th graders working via the Web with high-quality curriculum sounds cozy and inviting.

But I’d swap the  “any reliable adult” at the front of the room, with a trained, accomplished, professional teacher. This teacher would engage the kids, often individually, by administering oral exams, dispensing life wisdom and direction and by forming a bond between an adult and a student.

The teacher would be just one resource and the students would still be able to attend cyber-lectures by the best-in-class teachers offering a gold-plated education.

I’d also have the students interact more with each other. Students could lead face-to-face lessons, demonstrating what they have learned and helping their fellow students learn it, too. And why not capture the lessons on video and make them available for other students at other schools?

I’d look for ways to engage groups of students in a common piece of literature. Maybe there would even be a way to have the whole class read the same work, or to find complementary works at different levels that could be studied and taught (again by students) in parallel.

And I would make an effort to connect these modern one-room school houses to each other, so that the students learning in “a single urban apartment” could learn from the students “from a few blocks in the suburbs” and vice versa.

One of the key benefits school provides is an opportunity to socialize and learn with people who are different from us. Why not take full advantage of our unbridled ability to communicate to get to know each other better?

In all, the Internet and the devices we use to navigate it have tremendous potential to reshape education in very positive ways. And there is no questions things are going to change and change radically in the education space, as I’ve written in the past — even the recent past.

As it does, Silicon Valley has a huge role to pay. Not just in selling the goods that schools are going to need to pull this off. But by lending its brain-power and technological expertise to those who are working to make things better.

There is no doubt Silicon Valley has the ability and the vision to turn its tools into a part of the solution for our troubled schools. Now is as good a time as any to get started.


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