Can The Internet Replace Public Education Institutions Such As Schools?

For this post I make reference to a recent facebook post by Dusty Smith. Calling himself “The Peoples Atheist”, he operates the Youtube channel “Cult Of Dusty” as well as a few other social media groups and accounts. He was also the brain behind the “Logic” line of clothing that you see a lot of popular Atheistic Youtuber’s wearing. That was his smart work around to getting banned from making revenue though google ads after getting flagged for “hate speech” (AKA tearing apart Christianity and religion).

But with that bit of background aside, Ill move on to the post itself.

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In pondering this topic, my mind as taken it in a number of different directions. As such, I will do my best to try and separate all the different trains of thought. Also, since this is a personal blog entry, I will at times draw from my bank of personal experiences. However, as with most every subject I tackle, I am aware of my personal bias and try not to let it cloud my overall view of the topic itself. The reference’s are not put in solely to back up my argument. They are there because, this is an exercise of my mind. Some things fit in, so I may make use of them.

  Part 1 – The Risks Of An Overly Automated Educational System

I have to say that I am in agreement with Dusty’s sentiment, to a degree. The internet is indeed revolutionizing the world, and it could theoretically be said that it may soon replace typical brick and mortar public schools as a source of public education (just as online shops have replaced the brick and mortar stores for a lot of shoppers in recent years).
However, this idea has some major drawbacks that have to be factored in.

First of all is the obvious. One of the biggest drawbacks to the process of automation, is the human factor. Right now there are hundreds of thousands of educators in the world that barley make a living as it is. Though this process of automation could be looked at as just opening a new avenue of communication with students, I think its entirely possible that it will become a replacement.
School boards internationally are well known to be underfunded and ever more leery to ask for tax rate increases due to the typical wrath taken from the public at such notions. So if these school boards found a way to not just massively cut the amount of teachers they have to employ, but also the number of schools they have to operate, would this not become a great option to look at?

 This is just one way of looking at the situation. This is based on the assumption that some form of structured (presumably) state run education is still available and (presumably) still compulsory.

Part 2 – The Pitfalls Of The Current Education System

However, reading Dusty’s comment again, it seems to me that he is saying that we do not need that structured system of education. His argument seems to be that everything anyone needs to know is available online, so it is up to the students themselves to seek out the information. And if they choose to  just very minimally educate themselves, they will  have to settle for lower level careers for the remainder of their lives.

I like the idea of putting someone in charge of their own education. And I do in fact have problems with the current system of schooling. And not just with the shit show often happening (primarily) in southern states (where creationists and other agenda pushers end up have far to much  influence in the educational process). But with largely, the whole of the educational system itself.
A big part of its purpose is to get you ready for the rigors of everyday life in the real world.  You need some basic skills such as how to communicate, basic mathematics, sciences and history as well (to give context to situations one is bound to confront at some point in life). Keep in mind that this is just the bare minimum requirements to exist in society (the bigger your dreams, the longer your learning curve will be).
But the whole primary though high school education process is far to rigid in its need to force everyone to conform to a set standard of ability in each required area of education.

No one person is exactly alike any other person. Every person has differing interests, intellectual abilitys etc. As such, though some people can easily master every single educational topic in full, they are rare individuals.
Sure, some people can memorize tons of information just for the purposes of spitting it back out on a standardized test. But what is the point of the process, if its just, temporary? Anyone can absorb information. But accumulating knowledge requires an understanding of that information that many/most people can not extend across multiple topics.

Many students are strong in some subjects, but not so much in others. But they are by necessity, forced to test at the same minimum level in every area of education. Which essentially boils down to, cramming in a bunch of useless information (if it is applicable outside the students area of strength) over and above what the student needs, just to pass the course.
It seems a very inefficient route to take. When harnessing the various strengths of the students would almost certainly entail a better end result.

For me personally, I always enjoyed subjects such as Social Studies, Geography, English and Science. All of which is quite noticeable, given the content of this blog (and all my other online profiles). But I didn’t do all that well in either Math or Phys Ed.

One does need a basic grasp of mathematics to get though every day life. But I do question the need for the compulsory physical education courses as currently dispensed in most places.

Part 2(a): What I Think Is Wrong With The Modern Phys Ed Curriculum  

I understand that the course is there to try and promote life long healthy habits in students. But for the most part, I can not see this course as having all that much success at that goal. Though part of this problem does indeed rest on the shoulders of the students themselves, I sense that the course itself is also a contributing factor to its poor results.

For me personally, my experience in physical education courses throughout my school years has done far more to turn me off of physical education then to “inspire” me to lead an active life. This was partly due to flack from other students when I just could not master many sports, and partly because many of my teachers were just of NO help along the way. I blame a culmination of these factors for my HATRED of the sport baseball as well as my decision not to join any extra-curricular sports during high school (a decision that I have regretted a bit since leaving).

But that aside, I remember one of my high school gym teachers mentioning something similar to “I know that for the majority of you, this is the only physical activity that you will get today. And that this will be the same even when you are adults”.
I do not recall the exact context of the statement (likely criticism meant to shame us, though it didn’t work on me), but it illustrates a perfect truth. The truth that, each person is in charge of their own body.

Having said that, and though I commented that the subject of physical education seemed “pointless” to me earlier, that is just in reference to its current form. I am not insinuating a need to eliminate the subject entirely.

If you look at the rates of diseases like obesity and heart disease that are continually rising world wide, it does not seem bold to state with some assurance that the current phys ed paradigm is failing on a massive scale. Indeed there are many other factors that you have to take into account (such as the massive influx of sugar in the modern food supply, particularly in the easily affordable foods), but one of the most repeated causes is a lack of exercise.

Though everyone will have different viewpoints, one way I would change the phys ed teaching method is less focus on skills and results and more focus on education. In my mind, it is not overly important that every student be even semi-good at baseball, basketball, football or any other sports (I even went though a unit of dancing lessons one year!). Students drawn to these and other sports, will be drawn to them anyway. Those that are not all that athletically inclined, will not be influenced anyway.
Though physical activity should be a part of the process, it should not be the focus. What should be focused on are the eventual and very real health problems  that often happen to those living a physically inactive lifestyle.
Being fixated on how many laps, crunches or sit ups a student can do is not helpful. In fact, it can be detrimental in many cases. Maybe the idea behind the grading is supposed to act as an incentive to do better. If that is the case then it failed for me. To me it was more a proof of personal failure then it was an incentive.
Sure, I may have thought that I was inadequate in comparison to many of my other classmates. But now I have the proof to back it up.

For me, the important aspect of physical education is not how they score NOW. What is more important is that they are well aware of the ramifications of their actions later in life, on both themselves and the society around them (higher health insurance premiums, more strain on the public health system etc). Measurements of student fitness levels should not have any purpose other then statistical.

Part 3 – Education By Personalized Curriculum / The Problem With Leaving The Future Of A Person In The Hands Of Their Childhood Self 

Despite the problems that plague our current education models, I do not think that entirely abolishing them in exchange for a completely self driven online-based education path, would work. If there was some agency or other entity that could piece together and distribute various personalized curriculum’s in order to both educate students AND to try and make use of their strengths, I could see this working however.

 One thing that should be considered however, is just how much control over education that the young mind can handle.

I remember when I was young. I (for the most part) did not enjoy going to school, and considered it more like a necessary chore then  anything else (the same way I consider going to work now). If given the chance NOT to go to school, hell, of course I would not have gone!
Given the choice of “learning”, or going out and having fun with friends, of course I would choose friends! Natter at me about screwing up my future all I want, what do I care? Im a kid!
Even in grade 9 (going into grade 10) I remember the guidance councilors tried to warn us to choose our courses carefully, for they may affect our future post secondary choices. I DON’T GIVE A SHIT!

In reality, I have to be honest and admit that I was not exactly in a healthy mind frame at the time (I did not want to be alive, and thus the future was not ANYWHERE on my agenda). Having said that however,  I wouldn’t think that many students would truly know where they are even at that age. Some do, and good for them. But I have yet to figure out where I am going NOW, at 26 years of age (though I may be in the minority).

Building on that point, lets say that our new form of pubic education has a mandatory K-6 (7 or 8?) education platform that all have to take. That will ensure you have at least the very basics you need to function in society. But come your high school years, furthering your education becomes optional. You are told that it will be very helpful to your future if you DO further your education, but it is not a requirement.
Had I been given the choice, I honestly do not see myself as bothering, warning (or friendly advice) about my future prospects or not. That is not to say that I would not have changed my tune later in life, made the decision to pursue my high school career to completion (what I ended up doing in real life. Graduated in 2011). But it begs the question that is, how young is to young to make ones own life choices?

Part 4 – Why A Non-Centralized Self Driven Education System Would Not Work

I am not entirely sure of exactly how Dusty would put his idea into fruition in reality, but given just what is outlined in his facebook post, I can spot a great many problems with this potential set up.

For one thing, is the language barrier.  Anyone that can look at this page and comprehend what it says, does not have a language barrier. Anyone that can look at, and comprehend, a page that is written in any language, does not have a language barrier.  The internet is like a bottomless pit of information for me to check out and utilize, all made possible because I am not stuck behind a language barrier.
Sure, if you give a child a laptop or a tablet and then walk away, they will indeed have access to the entirety of human knowledge as available on the internet. But what good is any of it?

Its a bit like attempting to “educate” people of a completely isolated rain forest tribe of our vast knowledge of science, by dropping a few sets of text books. The information is as useless to them as a book written in hieroglyphs or Chinese is to me.

And even if we ignore the language barrier (maybe Dusty has an unmentioned solution to that), were still left with the issue of the immature young mind. Sure the internet is filled with all the knowledge of humanity to date. But it also has video games, social media and a thousand other distractions that will occupy the mind and provide a lot more entertainment then learning ever will (for many people anyway).

And this is not even taking into consideration the amount of annoying echo chambers that the internet and social media creates for many groups ending in ist, ive, ian or otherwise. That is not to say that this is not a good thing. It helps people get in touch with like minded people, which in turn builds up their power in numbers (take the growth of the number of us outspoken Atheist’s for example).
But the flaw in our flocking into these big like-minded groups comes when the individuals either partially (or fully) surrender a desire to look at matters from an alternative prospective. Or as I would normally put it, cling only to their given ideology.

I have posted a number of entries on how I observe this happening a lot in the atheist community. The whole false dichotomy of choices, and babies are NOT born atheist thing (my whole language barrier argument above is based on the same premise as my argument that states babies are NOT born atheist). But even though its annoying (and intellectually dishonest) that many Atheist’s continually push these philosophically false conclusions, it is mostly harmless.
It does force an unnecessary wedge into the secularist movement as a whole, but it is not exactly an intellectual faux pas with disastrous consequence.

The same can not be said for what groups like Answers in Genssis, The Westboro Baptist Church, The American Family Association and others will be promoting to anyone they snag into their clutches. If you think the creationists have to much power NOW, imagine if they had no opposition AND a direct role in guiding your childs personal curriculum.

If you do not have any structured educational system in which to guide students along, you can guarantee that all of these groups (along with countless others with all sorts of nasty agendas) will step in to fill the gap.

Part 5 – Conclusion / Final Words 

Though I did not anticipate that this piece would involve a whole lot of thought, it has turned into one of the longest posts that I have ever written. But in doing so, I think that I have illustrated in detail, a number of reasons why utilizing the internet as a replacement to the typical modern school driven curriculum, needs a lot of prier planning and consideration before we EVER consider it in reality.

I do agree with the notion that the internet is an indispensable tool, when it comes to education. However, it alone can not replace the guidance of an unbiased teacher or role model.

2 thoughts on “Can The Internet Replace Public Education Institutions Such As Schools?

  1. ‘For me, the important aspect of physical education is not how they score NOW. What is more important is that they are well aware of the ramifications of their actions later in life, on both themselves and the society around them (higher health insurance premiums, more strain on the public health system etc). Measurements of student fitness levels should not have any purpose other then statistical.’

    Agreed…100%. I applaud your accurate and IMO intuitive grasp of the shortcomings of current Phys Ed scenarios. A wonderful opportunity to Educate, if you like, young minds. And an opportunity that is usually squandered in favor of ‘picking sides…or teams’ for dodgeball, b-ball …anything but what is really needed: an understanding, a foundation for a lifestyle steeped in active living…exercise, nutrition, etc. etc.


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