American Consequences - September 2020


they’re going with their degree and what they’re going to use it for. It doesn’t work as well for the much broader class of students who have no idea what they’re doing, for whom school is – or is supposed to be – a place to explore ideas and interactions more freely than they’ll get to anywhere else in life. IS ONLINE LEARNING EVEN REALLY SCHOOL? I’ve given the matter a lot of thought in my annoyingly ample free time this year. I used to teach middle school, and now I’m a graduate student – for the time being, an online-only grad student. School and I can’t get away from each other. To borrow from Charles Portis – who Mr. Coffin never put on the reading list, by the way – as far as school is concerned, I have yet to reach “escape velocity.” School, life has convinced me, is not a state of mind. School isn’t a growth phase we get to graduate from. And, no, it’s not a remote- learning experience . School is, by definition, a place. Truly: Merriam-Webster has it as “a place for teaching and learning”... Cambridge, “a place where children go to be educated”... the OED calls it an “establishment or institution for the formal education of children or young people” (but we know they’re not really talking about a livestreamed lecture and daily assignments uploaded to the cloud). The Latin noun scola , because I know you were wondering, most commonly refers to “an

month to further delay their long-scheduled September 10 opening by another 11 days. The all-powerful teacher’s union made the case to the mayor and won. But such a sudden change at a certain time doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in public schools’ readiness to respond to the demands of the new reality... chief among them, the need to give schoolchildren a sense of safety and consistency. Some schools have adapted by offering, or planning to eventually offer, outdoor classes. Most, though, have moved online. School and I can’t get away from each other. To borrow from Charles Portis... as far as school is concerned, I have yet to reach “escape velocity.” Online learning isn’t new, but it never totally took over – never fully revolutionized – education in America. Not because we’re a nation of stubborn steady habits, a people constitutionally predisposed to regard revolutionary reforms with the skepticism they’re due... although we often are... But because downloading content to our brains is not what we go to school for. Online learning works for a pre- professional graduate student or a so-called unconventional college student, often someone returning to finish their degree later in life and are too old or too weighed-down with real-life responsibilities to live in a dorm – these are people who already know where


September 2020

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