Today online learning is encouraged more and more in our country. Proponents of this method say that computers help students learn better because 1) kids love screens and 2) learning is personalized allowing students to move at their own pace. In this essay, I will show that both of these presumed advantages can turn out to be liabilities. Other liabilities include lack of teacher involvement, lack of real-life experiences, lack of balance in content (specific to Edgenuity online curriculum), and lack of knowledge of content by teachers and parents.
Too Much Screen Time
Yes, kids love screens, and many parents complain that limiting screen-time at home is difficult. Regrettably, extensive use of screens in the classroom only increases screen-time. According to an article by Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. in Psychology Today, multiple studies have shown that too much screen time causes atrophy in the brain’s gray matterwhere “planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control” originate. Other areas affected are the striatum where socially unacceptable impulses are suppressed, the insulawhich provides the capacity for empathy and compassion, and the white matter which enables “communication within the brain and from the brain to the body and vice versa.” Dr. Dunckley concludes:
“In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills. Use this research to strengthen your own . . . position on screen management, and to convince others to do the same.”
As shown above, children may be eager to learn in front of a screen, but the damage that occurs is likely to have a negative overall effect on their ability to learn.
Online Learning Is Not Personalized
Proponents of online learning say it is personalized to meet the individual needs of each student. In actuality, during an online lecture, the student and the virtual teacher are unable to communicate which essentially precludes personalization and makes online learning better suited to disseminating a single, subjective view of the world.
Lack of Teacher Involvement
When a teacher delivers a lecture, both the students and the teacher are meaningfully engaged in the lesson content. The students must digest the information and demonstrate their understanding of the subject in order to complete subsequent assignments.
By contrast, the teacher’s involvement in online lessons occurs mainly through use of the dashboard. The dashboard alerts a teacher that an action, such as unlocking a quiz, is needed in order for a student to move forward. The teacher can review a student’s scores on assignments leading up to a quiz or unlock the quiz without looking at the scores. In either case, familiarity with the lesson material or thoughtful review of the students’ work is not required.
One problem that arises from the lack of thoughtful review is that students can copy material from the lesson content and paste it into the response box to get a score of 100% since the computer merely looks for matching or related words.
Every day I see students who scored 70% to 100% on assignments, score 20% to 50% on the quiz that covers the same material. It is likely that the copy-and-paste feature combined with the lack of teacher/student engagement is responsible for this. For these students, the goal is not to learn but to finish as quickly as possible, and teachers who spend much of their time as dashboard monitors have little time to invest in any individual student’s educational experience.
Lack of Real-Life Experiences
Pediatricians recommend zero screen time for children under 2 years of age. An important reason for this is that looking at a ball on a screen is not the same as looking at, touching, and playing with a real ball. Similarly, students learning from pictures and videos are merely gaining static information which is easily forgotten. Much more effective learning occurs when students interact with real people who respond to them in real-time and with real interest, tossing ideas back and forth to explore a subject. Should teachers wish to facilitate a group discussion of online curriculum content, they would encounter the following difficulties as a result of different stages of their students’ progression: 1) students who are ahead have already moved on and may feel they are wasting their time with repeated information, and 2) students who are behind may have insufficient background to understand the material.
Lack of Balance in Curriculum Content (Specific to Edgenuity)
As I work with students, I encounter essay assignments that prompt me to look into a particular lesson’s content. For example, an essay topic such as, “Do you think that the Founding Fathers were justified in rebelling against the British government?” makes me wonder what in the lesson might prompt a student to answer in the negative. An essay topic such as, “Write an argumentative editorial that argues for or against young people’s ability to initiate positive change in their communities,” makes me wonder if the curriculum’s definition of “positive change” is the same as my own.
To help readers determine whether or not their values align with the Edgenuity curriculum, I have included the following examples of common themes. My experience is mostly in Language Arts, so it is this subject from which these examples are taken.
Racism—Language Arts 9 semester 2 contains a unit called “Fighting for Equality.” Rather than encouraging students to become “color blind,” the curriculum creates division by presenting readings where whites are aggressive or oppressive toward other races, thus encouraging all other races to view themselves as victims.
Feminism—In Language Arts 11 semester 2, repeated references are made to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles.” These works lead young women toward dissatisfaction with the role of wife and mother and disrespect for those who fulfill that role. The following themes are drilled into the minds of our young people through repetitious quiz questions.
From “Trifles” —
- Women face abuses and injustices in a male-dominated society as symbolized by a bird with a broken neck
- Women are “confined” by the duties of wife and mother
- Women often feel pressured to conform to society’s expectations
From The Feminine Mystique—
- Women frequently go unheard in a male-dominated society
- Women can feel suffocated and trapped by society’s expectations
- Women who are “stuck” at home often have feelings of dissatisfaction, desperation, and hopelessness.
After students read all the excerpts about how women are suffocated by men, an excerpt from Soldier’s Home by Ernest Hemingway ends with the idea that girls are nice to look at, but not worth making the effort to court or marry. This excerpt encourages the boys to objectify women.
While awareness that some women have experienced oppression has some value, and knowledge of how our culture has evolved is an important part of learning about our nation’s history, the Edgenuity curriculum presents no point of view outside of that cited above. No discussion occurs about the benefits that society in general, and children in particular, receive from women who choose to raise their own offspring and provide well-managed homes for their families. Rather than empowering women to use their talents in whatever way they prefer, young women are encouraged to feel like vengeful victims who must continue “the fight” to overcome the abuses perpetrated by men.
Environmentalism—Humans are portrayed as enemies of the earth. One article, “Save the Redwoods,” written by John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club,* compared cutting down a sequoia tree to make wood products with passing General George Washington “through the hands of a French cook [to make] good food” (Language Arts 9 semester 1). The Middle School Reading Course semester 1 contains an entire unit called “Environment: Extreme Weather” which presents global warming as a fact illustrating its consequences through articles such as “Global Warming in Siberia,” “Global Warming and Superbugs,” and “Weather of Tomorrow.”.
Video gaming—Middle School Reading semester 1 also includes multiple units on “The World of Gaming” in which students are assigned to read a “Persuasive Essay against ESRB Labeling Restrictions.” The writing assignment is, “What game do you like to play and why?” While helping a student with a quiz, I came upon a reading informing students that gaming helps develop quicker reflexes and suggesting that they could use that as an argument the next time their parents told them they were spending too much time playing video games. Targeting parents who struggle to limit their children’s game time and suggesting that parents do not know best pits young people against their parents rather than encouraging respect and obedience.
A negative world view—Edgenuity is replete with stories and excerpts depicting conflict and oppression. Some examples from Language Arts 10 semester 1 follow:
- “Diary 24” from “The Freedom Writers Diary” by Erin Gruwell (A homeless black girl starts 10th grade at a school where racial tensions are high)
- “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan (Mother/daughter conflict)
- “Identifying Conflict” (A young girl’s experience in a Nazi camp)
- “An Interview with Marielle Tsukamoto: A First-Hand Account of Japanese Internment”
- “Night” by Elie Wiesel (A boy’s experience in a Nazi camp)
As stated earlier, knowledge of historical events is a valuable part of an education. However, when students move from one depressing excerpt to another without class discussions which might offer solutions, parallels, and/or opposing viewpoints they can come away with a negative view of the world in which they live. Without class discussions, lessons generally proceed as follows:
- Students watch a lecture preparing them for a reading
- Students read the text
- Students watch another lecture guiding their interpretation of the readings
- Students complete at least one assignment pertaining to the material
- Students are quizzed to make sure that their interpretation is “correct.”
- The process is repeated
Lack of Knowledge of Content by Teachers and Parents
Ideally, teachers would listen to all the lectures and review the entire curriculum frame by frame to gain first-hand knowledge of the material presented. However, keeping up with dashboard alerts creates a fast-paced situation, and since they trust the curriculum to cover all Common Core requirements, and this step is not required for students to progress and finish the courses, gaining more than incidental knowledge of the curriculum is generally not a priority. If teachers happen to discover a concept with which they do not agree, they can present an opposing viewpoint in a lecture or during a group discussion. But as mentioned above, group teaching presents its own set of difficulties when students are all in different stages of progression and possibly even studying different subjects altogether. Sharing opposing views with each student separately is too time-consuming and could be construed as pushing the teacher’s person values on an individual, so it is not a viable option.
As for parents, if no textbook ever comes home, they have limited access to the ideas being presented to their children. A parent must be aware of an objectionable teaching before they can counter it.
Many factors make it difficult for online learning to deliver a quality education. Quality learning is facilitated by real people exploring ideas and exchanging views through real-life activities and personal interactions. Through online learning, students are lead to accept the point of view put forward by the makers of the program, and as I have shown, much of the content of Edgenuity presents a divisive agenda promoting racism, feminism, and environmentalism along with a generally negative world view.
_________________________________________________________________* Denigration of human life should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Sierra Club. David Brower, a founder, suggested the following: “Childbearing should be a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license. All potential parents should be required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.” He further stated, “The goal now is a socialist, redistributionist society, which is nature’s proper steward and society’s only hope.”