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College Education And On-Line Learning

The opinion-page article "Ivory Towers and Ivy-Covered Walls Will Yield to On-Line Learning," April 16, is the latest version of what educator-speak now calls "distance learning." It will indeed revolutionize teaching and information delivery, but as a society we may find the revolution has a dark side: widening the growing chasm between the very well off and the rest of us.

The selective Ivys and other elite colleges, including military academies, will continue to impart much more than "information." They teach interpersonal leadership skills that groom future leaders and also provide social connections.

Meanwhile, the less-prestigious universities will compete among themselves and for-profit corporations to deliver more information at less cost. But the old enemy of "textbook education," Socrates, was wise enough to see that the best teaching is through inspiration, example, and personal involvement. Dartmouth and West Point won't forget this, we can be sure. Nor will economic choices force them to forget.

But can we say the same about the other, less well-positioned, colleges that also offer the benefits of in-person education? Socrates demonstrated that information is not the same as knowledge. So if information "will double every five years," who will determine which is which? We all need to begin in earnest a lively Socratic search, asking, "What is the best that college education offers, and how can it be preserved as we move with the newest, efficiency-driven technologies?"

James Hall

Kutztown, Pa.

Professor of Philosophy, Kutztown University

I am astonished, but not surprised, at the opinion-page article, which wrongly equates accessing information with the skill of learning. The author demotes learning to a no-thought smorgasbord of least-common denominator. The "rapid delivery of up-to-date" information, where student/customers decide what information they need and when they need it, is a fast-food approach to higher education. It bears the same relationship to scholarship and real learning as hamburger and fries to fine food. The graduates of a Mc-information-superhighway university will have a continuing need to be fed information, whereas graduates of true learning develop the skills they need to seek information.

Joseph E. Armstrong

Normal, Ill.

Professor of Botany, Illinois State University

Teacher unions aren't the problem

The author of the letter "Solving the Education Crisis," April 16, wrongly blames teacher unions for the problems with certification rules. These rules prevented the writer, who has taught college physics, from teaching the subject at a public school. In most states, certification requirements are laid down by the Department of Education, often with little or no consultation with teachers' unions.

The letter writer cites an example of a gym instructor teaching math at a public school. Could it be that the school district did not look very hard for a certified math teacher? Perhaps the district did not even try emergency certification, which allows people like the writer to teach at public schools without having met all the certification requirements. Also, many states have alternate routes to certification for people already holding degrees. Surely the writer doesn't want elementary-school children to be taught by someone without proper training.

W.A. Morgan

Shippensburg, Pa.

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