The Geographical Ball and Chain. . .

I’m reading Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody.  In it, he explores how technology is changing human interactions—and he shares an interesting example:

In 2007, several conservative parishes of the Episcopal Church in Virginia decided to split from the American branch of their church after an openly gay bishop was ordained.  The parishes chose to align themselves with the NIGERIAN branch of the Episcopal Church—whose views (they believed) better matched their own.

Shirky argues that this shows a shift in our thinking about how we organize ourselves.  Typically, humans have used geography as the primary factor when determining how to join together with others.  In the church example, we’ve always aligned ourselves with others who were physically close to us AND shared our views.

Technology has made it possible to align with anyone, however.  While it would be nice for the parishes in Virgina to find others with like minded beliefs who were also nearby, they were able to place a priority on like minded beliefs instead of geography when connecting.

So my question is this:  Will we eventually see similar changes in the ways that people think about schools?

Think about it:  Right now, people send their students to schools based on geography.  You go to the building that is closest to you, whether you are satisfied with that building or not.

Is it possible that technology may change all of that and allow families to select schools based on design and ideas that best represent their personal preferences and values INSTEAD of choosing schools based on physical location?

And if so, how will that change our work as teachers?  What impact will it have on us as taxpayers?  On our nation’s guarantee of providing a sound basic education for all children?  On any efforts at all to provide a uniform curriculum?

Whaddya’ think?


9 thoughts on “The Geographical Ball and Chain. . .

  1. sweber

    Thought provoking….
    I enjoyed your article titled The Geographical Ball and Chain. North Carolina Virtual Public School, UNC-G iSchool, Learn and Earn Online and other programs (i.e., Early College and Middle College) are making these opportunities a reality for North Carolina high school students? Will these opportunities be offered to middle school and high school students?
    Will students take advantage of these opportunities or is online learning currently only a reality for self-motivated/advanced learners?
    You asked if parents would eventually be able to choose the school their child attends or possibly attend a school in another county/state…..
    My Thoughts:
    a. Some parents currently choose IB Programme, AP courses, community college courses, Early College, Middle College, Charter Schools, Magnet Schools and other opportunities for their students. This is already a wider selection of choices than what I experienced as a K-12 student.
    b. Some parents currently select private schools and home school as a K-12 educational opportunity for children.
    c. With the current financial status of public school districts in most states, it will be difficult for school districts to allow students to attend their school of choice. Some schools would be overcrowded. If the schools were overcrowded with students from another state or county, it would mean that taxpayers are paying for children who do not live in their county. Under the PLC model, the United States would say “These are our students and our future.” However, this way of thinking would require a need to change the manner in which public schools are funded.
    d. I have lived in two states and each state has been divided by the “Have” and “Have Not” school districts. This division was not created due to inferior teaching. Nor was this division created due to parents who don’t want their students to succeed in school. This division was mainly created because some school districts can consistently recruit the some of the best teachers by offering a higher teaching salary. Some school districts can provide more technology and supplies for their students. Some schools can provide more educational course offerings for their students, due to a larger local budget. It is too radical for many to imagine, but if we are to give students an equla ‘opportunity to learn'(regardless of race, gender, socioeconomics, geographic location of school district, etc.), it may be time for states and for the United States to give school systems an equal budget. Equal does not mean dollar for dollar. Obviously a smaller school system does not need the same budget as Wake County Schools.

  2. Gilbert Halcrow

    The argument for differentiation, the economies of scale and choice are very strong. These ideas are more associated however with economic constructs rather than educational.
    But I think the argument of the ‘not-quite-fit-in’, learning to live with our abilities, doing something that may not be your first choice is all part of the current ‘local school’ design which has some social merit.
    I am not suggesting the Darwinist model of impoverished schools, in poor areas where only the strong and/or lucky make it to graduation. But I do worry that the redistribution of knowledge and access to ‘knowledge creation’ through technology will disenfranchise the educationally disadvantage as much as the current model.
    I can easily see ways to teach Media and Film on-line, but I fear that even with interactive software, music, dance, art, PE, design (physical) and drama would suffer.
    Shiky’s work seems inspiring (‘The Zon’ sent my copy 3 days ago – so I haven’t read it) a lot of people at the moment. But another take on the church aligning with their African chapter is that it has more to do with ‘Power and Ideology’ than technology or a new geographical paradigm – in fact it reinforces a very old (and not always healthy) paradigm:’stick with the people you agree with and do not challenge you’. The mobility in a more diverse local environment may well be a bad thing as I can now ‘bunker down’ at home while feeling connected to brethren on the other side of the globe.
    I believe future schools will operate in time and space very differently than we do now and should capitalise on a blended use of technology to offer greater choice, support and development.
    Any talk, however of one size fits all and that there are huge gains by abandoning physical schools is just ‘Victorian classroom 2.0’ – lets enjoy efficiencies that technology has to offer but not lose sight of the incredible important social learning that only an analogue school can provide.

  3. Adam

    Yes, virtual schools are making this happen, but as many people have already said the traditional structure will be around for a while. I wonder if another way to look at this is how do we help students find these types of global connections in a traditional building?

  4. Jay

    You bring up interesting food for thought Bill, but I live in Southern Baptist country and they are not going to aligned with anyone but other southern, God-fearing Baptists and their kids will go to their local school in the same tradition they did. The only difference I envision is more collaboration between schools and students in different locations, like a North Carolina middle school partnering with a similar school in Denmark on projects and initiatives that have mutually-desired learning outcomes.

  5. Larry Ferlazzo

    One of the main reasons that much of the most effective community organizing has been done with a religious congregation base has been because neighborhood congregations are a thing of the past, and it’s been that way for the past thirty years. Congregations have been one of the few stable community institutions because people move as far as an hour or two away, but remain committed to that institution.
    I’m not convinced, though, that connecting virtually online long-distance in either religious communities or in K-12 education is going to be wildly popular or successful in the future. One, because I believe the face-to-face human touch is critical to both. Two, I don’t think social and economic factors are not going to even make those virtual connections an option for huge numbers of low-income people.

  6. Bob Heiny

    Good post and comments. Yes, Bill, probably we all know that new virtual learning communities exist among school age as well as older people around the world.
    Mostly, these venues compete quietly with public schooling in similar ways that homeschooling and private schools compete for time and other resources.
    As teachers, I wonder if we have avoided giving these venues peer level credibility in exchange for enhancing conventional schooling policies and practices before the general public catches on to competitive, emerging alternatives.
    What do you think?

  7. Carly Albee

    Way to go Future-man. I have thought about ways that technology can effect education…but that one hadn’t crossed my mind. Gives “Globalism” a new twist for education.

  8. Barry

    Conceptually and practicality wise, it is a great idea. Essentially, much like universities, yuo can select a school that best meets your individuals needs.
    However, I can’t see many communities giving up “home rule” and allowing “outsiders” to come into “their” schools. At least in NJ, that would be a major revolution in itself due to the local property taxes that funds schools.
    Essentially, it seems as if Shirky is proposing a national voucher system?

  9. The Virtual Teacher

    This is absolutely something that can happen in the near future. It is beginning to happen now!
    This year, I have taught students in grades 1-4 who are in Tokyo. I have been in Quebec all year. These students have chosen to be part of an online school with a virtual classroom rather than attend an international school in Japan. We follow the Quebec curriculum.
    Right now this is a special case, but as we develop materials and learn how to deliver instruction effectively, there is no reason that this kind of school could not be created over shorter geographical distances.
    Certainly, the role of the teacher changes. I must spend more time guiding learning through projects, and prompting thinking through discussion. I spend a great deal less time imparting information as the know-all teacher. While there are some down sides to not being present in the classroom, there are many ups as well. I may not see the students in person, but I feel that I know them well through our many discussions. I can capture work in progress on the screen.
    I do not think that this will ever be appropriate for every child, or every teacher. On the other hand, I do believe that it is coming and parents will be able to choose the school that offers the curriculum closest to what they want for their children. That can be a scary thought when you consider that many parents want Dick and Jane and Drill and Kill math because it worked for them.

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