Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Virtual Star Wars

Among the many possibilities that school choice can offer children, one that is still being debated is that of virtual schools, or online learning. I must admit that I was, at first, skeptical of this idea. Having been raised in a small town in the Ozarks in a time when computers were rarely used, I did not have much of a reference point by which to gauge this sort of thing. That is until my nephew Ethan started learning his alphabet at a very rapid pace and by first grade was reading at a third grade level.

I know that this was partially a result of his mother reading to him every night at bedtime, and I can’t discount his insatiable desire for knowledge. But much of his learning happened at the helm of a computer he started using at an early age. With educational software, he not only began to quickly read and spell words in English, he also took an interest in the Spanish language, became rather adept at basic math, and well, the rest is history.

With online programs, he became interested in the history of dinosaurs, planes, trains, and Star Wars; the movie, that is. Okay, so all of this might not fit into the realm of traditional education, but I couldn’t deny that it wasn’t extremely beneficial. So now when I listen to, or read about, school choice and the possibilities of virtual education, I’m not as skeptical. Now I have that reference point. The great thing is that he is still a very active child. He is on a soccer team, loves to go camping and climbing, and he even likes to play with “old school” Star Wars figures as if it was 1977 all over again.

A February 1st New York Times article entitled Online Schooling Grows, Setting Off a Debate, by Sam Dillon says “Rural Americans have been attracted to online schooling because it allows students even on remote ranches to enroll in arcane courses like Chinese.”

I definitely know that Ethan would not be in the advantageous position he is now had it not been for his virtual education. My skepticism has waned. I believe that virtual education, when applied appropriately, can have positive applications for many different children. Think of the realm of possibilities! They are our children; shouldn’t it be our choice?

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