Magazine article Distance Learning

A Half-Hidden Asset

Magazine article Distance Learning

A Half-Hidden Asset

Article excerpt

I've just come up with a big, brilliant idea to change the nature of education in America, but I'm going to need a lot of help. Students have moved from learning in school to daylong learning; they consume media anywhere, anytime, and now that is going to happen with education. But schools aren't like 7-Eleven's: they close, and that's the problem I've just solved!

In every community in the country I'm going to put a learning center; maybe not open 24 x 7, but certainly during the day and nights and weekends, too. In each center, I'm going to have computers with broadband connectivity, and lots of other educational resources right at the kids' fingertips; if they require newspapers or magazines-even books-it'll all be right there on the shelves waiting for them.

Of course, it's going to take a lot of money to throw up all these buildings, wire them, and install the hardware. And I've got to hire about 70,000 people to staff the places ...

Say, what? This infrastructure already exists?

Oh, of course: the public library. There are thousands of public libraries all over the country, virtually every one with Internet access, and many with a lot more-video conferencing facilities, movie theatres, classrooms, even coffee bars. And yet, typically it's up to each individual student to figure out how to (or even if they should) integrate the public library into his or her education.

For most public libraries and most school systems, there is no legal, bureaucratic, or even personal connection between the leaders of the two organizations. Libraries are funded by a hodgepodge of state laws, and they're run by all sorts of different structures. This terrible complexity makes it nearly impossible for any national mandate to leverage public libraries to help student performance, assuming that the thought even occurred to anyone in Washington.

Even worse, librarians traditionally never thought of themselves as educators, or even education-enablers. …

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