If the designers of compulsory education had felt that the lessons would have been just as effective with a set of good encyclopedias and workbooks, schools would never have been built. It’s much cheaper to give a set of books to a kid than to design, build, maintain, and staff a dedicated facility.
But it wasn’t possible then. It might be possible now, with online learning tools like MOOCs, Duolingo, and the Khan Academy. I have no doubt that I can learn high school-level Italian, or calculus, online, given the motivation.
So what’s the real value of education, if not in the materials being taught?
The real value is togetherness.
Of course, you can’t teach choir online. I’ll bet that 99% of the participants in Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir had already participated in an actually choir. So the necessity of actual choir classes is not arguable.
But then, look to the value we originally put in group learning. By teaching in groups, we are able to positively influence morality, civic-mindedness, human connection, empathy, interpersonal relations, respect, and so many other values. Values that transcend the course and impact our students lives. Lessons that can best be talk by interacting with groups of like-minded and un-like-minded peers.
I have no doubt that there will be an ever-greater push to modularize education, and eliminate the group discussion, the large lecture. And maybe that’s OK for some materials; but it’s not OK for the real lessons we want to impart during compulsory K-12 education.
That puts ever-more pressure classes like music ensembles, theatre, and dance, to take on the original goals of education, and provide our students with true, deep, human learning.