I had a bit of an epiphany this weekend, y’all: We live in an a la carte world—and a la carte worlds are not comfortable places for organizations like our public school systems.
Need an example?
Then let’s look at the source of my weekend’s curse quota: The greedy corporate thieves Time Warner Cable and the Dish Network.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’d know that I ditched my cable service completely back in January. I’d grown tired of dropping my child’s college education funds $100 a month for access to hundreds of channels when I was only watching 10.
Combined with a decent digital antenna and the same major networks I grew up with, we’re doing just fine in the Ferriter house—and saving a TON of cash while we’re at it. My monthly outlay for television: 16 bucks.
Things came to a bit of a head for me on Saturday, though. You see, the one thing I can’t get through Netflix, Hulu, or the major networks is Carolina Hurricanes Hockey.
Most of their games are broadcast on a Fox Regional sports channel called Fox Sports Carolinas—which the dirty rotten scoundrels Time Warner Cable and Dish Network include on their middle to high end television packages.
On an ordinary day, I could probably live without the Canes. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE seeing the boys play but nine days out of ten, I’m too busy to sit and watch a game.
This weekend was different, though. The Canes were sitting just two points out of the playoffs and had a huge game against the Stanley-Cup-less and seemingly always angry Buffalo Sabres.
I wanted to watch the game pretty badly, so I scoured the Internet looking for options to watch it legally—and despite spending nearly 2 hours checking three different options, I discovered that there is no way to watch just one Canes game without giving your life’s savings away one month at a time to the less-than-admirable scalawags Time Warner Cable or the Dish Network.
I gotta tell ya, the whole experience left me pretty damned pissed more than a little heated—and more than a little convinced that cable companies are going to go belly up.
You see, we really do live in a world where people are growing to expect to be able to customize their content streams.
I don’t want to read the entire newspaper. Instead, I want to follow updates to sections that I care about. And I want to be able to read the comics, the horoscopes and the sports section those sections from my devices and on my time—not when you decide to print and deliver it to me.
I don’t want to watch a million television shows. I want to watch 12. And they’re all on different networks and on at different times. But that’s your problem, not mine. Just figure out how to give me what I want.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’ve probably decided that I’m angry and more than a little spoiled—and to be honest, you’re right. Life in today’s world is easy: I want what I want in the way that I want it and I won’t be satisfied until I get it.
What should force you to think, though, is that as the a la carte lifestyle takes greater hold in our world, schools are going to have to start answering lots of difficult questions.
Think about it: Why should the boy in my classes who plays on three baseball teams and has 8 practices a week spend any time in public school gym class? Shouldn’t he be able—with his parents’ permission—to take an extra math class or two?
And why should the girl in my classes who has spent her whole life studying engineering with her mother and father spend any time learning science from a poorly trained rube like me? Shouldn’t she be able to opt out of my class—or at the very least, opt in to a class with an educator who her parents believe in?
Now, schools can take the white-collared bandits’ Time Warner Cable’s approach to these new demands from a-la-carte-loving clients and keep pretending that there’s nothing wrong with what they are offering.
Or schools can start to rethink their approach to offering services. We can—and I’d argue that we should—begin to allow parents and students more choice over then whens, wheres, whys and hows of their education.
We’re going to need to rethink how students are assigned to teachers and examine the kinds of classes that our communities value. We’re going to need to imagine new ways to use digital tools to differentiate instructional experiences at the student level.
We’re going to have to decide just how committed our constituents—who are increasingly likely to be folks with highly individualized expectations like me—are to a “common core” and “national standards.”
And yes, taxpayers—we’re going to need more resources in order to overhaul a system that has been in place for the better part of a century and to ensure that every child has access to the same range of opportunities.
But the changes just aren’t optional anymore, y’all.