School Without Walls

Fascinating NYTimes Magazine article about virtual high schools.

Lacey doesn’t worry about makeup anymore. She doesn’t have to go shopping for back-to-school clothes or worry that some random girl is going to hate her outfit. She goes to school at a desk in the living room, surrounded by video games, unwashed dishes, her brother’s toy car collections. She copies down lesson goals in a neat looping script in multicolored notebooks. Inside each of them she has written her name and address and her list of classes. She is taking more classes than most kids because she wants to finish soon and be released from high-school limbo. For P.E. credit, Lacey takes long walks around the neighborhood, a run-down area where the streets are named after birds: Finch, Song Sparrow. It seems remarkable that this is actually P.E. — an evening stroll instead of the horror of chin-ups and rope climbs, the locker room where girls calculate who wears the biggest bra.

All of the kids enrolled in these “schools” have left high school because they didn’t fit in for one reason or another. Some have found virtual schooling a more effective remedy for supposed mental health problems then taking lots of pills. But all of them feel cut off from society as a result of taking these online classes, cut off from the critical social interactions that make teenage life so important. What do we need? A new paradigm in schooling. When do we need it? Now! Virtual schools aren’t a very good solution, but, hey, at least someone is trying something.

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