Will a cyber school website ever be a champion for our students or make a difference in their lives?


That’s not a relationship built for education

Last year, Michigan’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill that was then signed into law by Governor Snyder that expands cyber schools in our state. Michigan already has nearly a quarter of the county’s charter schools and upwards of 80% of them are for-profit, run by corporations who make decisions based on their impact on the corporate profit statement.

I’ve been concerned about this ever since the law was passed because cyber schools rob our children of the human contact and relationships that are essential for helping them become happy, productive adults with the social skills needed to be successful. The bill was, ironically, part of a package of bills the Republicans, without a trace of irony, called Parent Empowerment Education Reform (PEER.) Except that kids who “attend” cyber schools won’t actually have any peers, at least not the kind of peer you can interact directly with.

Rita Pierson is an educator who feels deeply about this topic. A teacher for 40-years, she has come to see the essential value of the relationships teachers develop with their students. She gave a TED Talk recently where she speaks in direct terms about this topic and her message is one legislators in Michigan would benefit from hearing.

[ted id=1728]

We know why kids drop out. We know why kids don’t learn. It’s either poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences. We know why. One of the things we never discuss or we rarely discuss is the value and importance of human connection. Relationships. James Comer says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. George Washington Carver says all learning is understanding relationships.. {…}

A colleague said to me one time, “They don’t pay me to like the kids. They pay me to teach a lesson, the kids should learn it, I should teach it, they should learn it, case closed!” Well, I said to her, “You know, kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” {…}

For years I watched my mother take the time at recess to review, go on home visits in the afternoon, buy combs and brushes and peanut butter and crackers to put in her desk drawer for kids that needed to eat, and a washcloth and some soap for the kids who didn’t smell so good. See, it’s hard to teach kids who stink. And kids can be cruel. And so she kept those things in her desk, and years later, after she retired, I watched some of those same kids come through and say to her, “You know, Ms. Walker, you made a difference in my life. You made it work for me. You made me feel like I was somebody, when I knew, at the bottom, I wasn’t. And I want you to just see what I’ve become.” {…}

Can we stand to have more relationships? Absolutely. Will you like all your children? Of course not. And you know your toughest kids are never absent. Never. You won’t like them all, and the tough ones show up for a reason. It’s the connection. It’s the relationships. And while you won’t like them all, the key is, they can never, ever know it. So teachers become great actors and great actresses, and we come to work when we don’t feel like it, and we’re listening to policy that doesn’t make sense, and we teach anyway. We teach anyway, because that’s what we do.

Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.

Fortunately, the law caps the percentage of Michigan students who can be enrolled in a cyber school at 2%. It’s puzzling why they put the cap on. If they were concerned about the quality of the education kids would receive in cyber schools, why have cyber schools at all? And if they are so blithely unconcerned about the impact that funneling tax money into the coffers of for-profit school corporations and the resulting profit-driven decision-making process that is part and parcel of their business model, why cap it? Were they concerned about the public perception of too many of our kids spending their entire school day in front of a computer? Or perhaps their intent is to get the camel’s nose under the tent with further expansion to come later.

Regardless, this is a bad law and it’s a horrendous model for educating our kids. I would love to speak to a parent who thinks that a cyber school education is right for their child. It’s a way of thinking I simply do not comprehend.