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Letters to the editor

Terry Quinn

Steve Sekelik did a column about Headsprout, an on-line reading skills course that he found useful for his daughter. I forwarded it to my daughter, who has a small child. It also led me to think about all the alternative ways people can learn. There are many computer-based programs that inform. Also audio and video media – tapes and disks. And just plain getting together with other people. Check out your local library. View the schedule for C-Span II for the weekend. See what is offered on PBS, The Discovery Channel and the History Channel. Copy shows for later viewing if their programming doesn’t suit your schedule. There’s a free liberal arts education right there. They cover a wide range of subjects and are aimed at many age and education levels. I suspect many people prefer alternative learning resources, for a variety of reasons – cost, convenience, focus on what the learner is interested in, and what suits the individual’s learning style. The cost of education is a well-publicized concern. Especially at the college level. The present system is mainly a medieval model, with students going off to live at a separate place that is often an unwholesome environment. Perhaps some subjects can be taught adequately only in a traditional classroom, but many need not. Surely developments in communications and travel make alternatives feasible. At a standard college, students’ choice of faculty and courses is limited to what that institution offers. It appears that the quality of many members of the professoriate is less than what we would hope for. Diversity of opinion is limited. Many courses are more indoctrination than education. Ward Churchill is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of conflict about values and ideologies in the classroom. Charter schools, private schools and home schooling are alternatives that permit people to choose the tone of their learning environment. Choice in education is anathema to those who like having their views presented exclusively to an audience with nowhere else to go. The present education system is largely structured to accommodate full-time students and teachers. So if you weren’t interested in learning at age 18, it will be inconvenient if you get the right attitude at age 35, when you have a job and a family. Someone who works in the Real World, and would like to share knowledge with others, is limited by qualification standards that bear little relation to teaching ability.Local community colleges provide relief in such cases, as do electronic means, like Headsprout, for all age and education levels. Red Canyon School is an example of how formal education can be more consumer-oriented. And consider discussion groups like Great Books. Pick one that suits your interests and personality. Another bright idea: Why not televise classroom presentations in state-funded schools, including colleges? The public has paid for them, why deny them the opportunity to use them? The production crew could be students who are majoring in communications. Offer them on a public access channel, and let people copy for viewing at their convenience. What more would this cost, per student, as opposed to present education systems? It’s not all the fault of the education establishment. People with limited time for learning need to figure out how to learn in their particular circumstances. For example, if you drive to work, or do housework, why not listen to a book or class rather than the mind-numbing noise offered by local radio outlets? Walkmans and Discmans allow one to take in some stimulating conversation while engaged in mundane but mobile tasks, like walking, doing chores or working out. This does not mean that people should just learn alone. They are free to join with others with similar interests, to provide the benefits of discussion to the learning process. And it’s not just face-to-face contact. Talk radio and TV, with their call-in component, are popular with a lot of people. Why not extend this concept beyond political, health or sports issues to academic subjects?I hope these remarks provoke thought and discussion about how to enhance the quality of our lives by taking advantage of all the means of learning. Terry QuinnEagleVail, Colorado


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