Virtual Schools: Setting Minds Adrift on Black Ships

photo by martingreffe

Excerpted below is a report from the Texas Observer’s Abby Rapoport, “Virtual Schools, Virtually Unregulated?,” about how a “virtual school” has avoided accountability in order to avoid being a, well, school.

At this point, the Texas Virtual Academy shouldn’t exist.  Under the state’s accountability rules, the school should have been shut down or overhauled after failing to meet state standards two years in a row. Instead, students are enrolled now for yet another year, thanks to a loophole for-profit companies contracting with state schools can exploit.


But the virtual academy failed to meet state standards two years in a row and faced getting shut down. Southwest Schools severed the contract and no longer offered the online program. Yet that was hardly a problem for K12, which simply got a contract with a different charter school. This year, K12 operates Texas Virtual Academy through a contract with Houston charter Responsive Education Solutions.  Texas Virtual Academy’s relationship with these charter schools is all on paper. So even though it swtiched host charter school, Texas Virtual Academy is virtually unchanged. The school is still going by the same name and operated by the same company, but its record is wiped clean.

The on-paper switch to a new host charter has given Texas Virtual Academy a completely fresh start.


In an emailed statement, the Texas Education Agency said that because Texas Virtual Academy had switched host charters, the agency has little authority to regulate the school:

[A]s we understand it, the TxVA campus of Southwest School is gone and the kids dispersed to unknown locations, the Southwest School is no longer responsible for them, but neither is [Responsive Education Solutions]. Even if some of them enroll in the new campus of [Responsive Education Solutions], whatever it is called, we would not have any authority to intervene. If they all, or the vast majority, enrolled in the new [Responsive Education Solutions] virtual campus, or in their existing virtual campus, we don’t have procedures that address that situation. In summary, we are not certain that we have any authority in terms of requiring interventions for the closed campus, or any standing as related to a successor campus.

That’s quite a loophole.

This is unsurprising.

And it’s instructive.

There are multiple parties involved who approve of this as an appropriate way to “do” education.  There are multiple parties involved who do not care if this is conducive to anything properly called “learning.”  There are multiple parties involved who will claim that this is how “innovation” happens.  And, to take them at their word, I have to believe they think these are good things.

“Deregulation” and “freedom of choice” sound good, especially if you put them together like a peanut butter cup.  But like that confection, they are empty of content.

Once we’ve been sold the “hands off the market” bill of goods we must live with what may come.  But be assured, just like the difficulty of raising taxes, it’s hard to “re-regulate” once you’ve deregulated.

Two things:

1. Virtual schools are not schools.  Rather they are an easy way to fleece an ignorant (and possibly quite stupid) population of their tax dollars.  But that is not the worst of it.  They are further pieces of the massive detachment apparatus that humanity is constructing at the behest of the dominant world-makers.

2. Heidegger was a Nazi, but so was Gotlob Frege.

More on point one.  We are losing (we have lost?) community cohesion.  The virtual school is an example of how easily this happens and how easily more of it will happen.  We are detached and digital and monetized.  I have no ideas on changing this other than coming together in our local communities in an unmediated fashion.  To simply be together without contention of a “right” way to do anything.  My bright idea is that we should all simply learn to play a musical instrument.  Yep, that’s all I’ve got.  But I honestly think it would be a powerful corrective.

Point two as instructive of point one.  The “moral case” against Heidegger as a philosopher, openly a Nazi and benefiting from being one while turning his back on Jewish friends and colleagues, is about more than the particular aspects of his project easily adapted to a nationalist ideal, but rather that it undermines “philosophy’s role in developing a climate of critical thought.”  Further, from Jonathan Glover‘s Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (quotations pp 375-77),

His books are an embodiment of the idea that philosophy is an impenetrable fog, in which ideas not clearly understood have to be taken on trust.  Karl Jaspers was right in seeing this ‘incommunicative’ mode of thought as linked to being dictatorial.

Deference is encouraged by having to take it on trust that the obscure means something important.  And since things not understood cannot be argued about, the critical faculties atrophy.

That seems pretty commonsensical.  Having to take anything on trust can be a deeply risky act, especially as regards the abstruse and uncommon nature of much thought conveyed via language; especially political language; especially religious language.  (Thoreau had faith in a seed not a conception of a creator of seeds.)  It seems easy to be skeptical of the grifter or huckster, even though many of us are taken in–but somewhere in ourselves we know it is a personal, human weakness that gives space to the belief in the con.  Once taken in, once the con is discovered, we are still committed to the con–we have to be, otherwise we are fools.  It is hard to bear humiliation.

However, what is worse it seems, is the example of Frege.  By all accounts a giant of analytic philosophy; it is claimed that modern logic starts with Frege.  Out of Frege, Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein.  A man of rigor: “austere but always in sharp focus…There was no staginess, rhetoric, pretentiousness or waffle.”  In short, the opposite of Heidegger.

It is this man that is more frightening than the charlatan character that serves as the charismatic.  The anti-Semitism of this mind, a mind of the highest order, committed to propositions of logic, is illogical.  Yet it is achieved via the logic of prejudice and bias.  As Glover says, Frege “compartmentalized” his mind.

There is the hope that the philosophical  habit of exposing assumptions to clear and rational thought may make it harder for prejudices and unfounded beliefs to survive.  For those of us who have that hope, the story of Frege is disheartening….Uncritical acceptance of a set of political or religious beliefs is no bar to distinction in molecular biology or in chemistry.  Done in the spirit of Frege, philosophy too becomes one technical subject among others.

Glover, as quoted in a previous Errant (Better Angels on Black Ships), ends his book this way.

The means for expressing cruelty and carrying out mass killing have been fully developed.  It is too late to stop the technology.  It is to the psychology that we should now turn.

One thing that seems clear is that the further we push into the sea of technological dispensation the further we are ungrounded, landless, unmoored, from our human selves.  Our systems of education, politics, government, all serve to facilitate what is most readily manipulable in our psychology: our defenses against fear and our wish to be desirable (to desire is to wish to be desired).  These systems form and calcify minds into “cages” called “world views” (emphasis mine below).

Jaspers argued that the construction of world views is not a merely neutral process, to be judged in non-evaluative manner

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. Instead, all world views contain an element of pathology; they incorporate strategies of defensiveness, suppression and subterfuge, and they are concentrated around false certainties or spuriously objectivized modes of rationality, into which the human mind withdraws in order to obtain security amongst the frighteningly limitless possibilities of human existence. World views, in consequence, commonly take the form of objectivized cages (Gehäuse), in which existence hardens itself against contents and experiences which threaten to transcend or unbalance the defensive restrictions which it has placed upon its operations.   (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Setting our children adrift further by the conception of a “virtual classroom” will only enforce the mechanisms by which this psychology is made useful to the beasts of greater means.  We must find ways to discourage our further detachments into the virtual world.

It is the task of psychological intervention, Jaspers thus argued, to guide human existence beyond the restricted antinomies around which it stabilizes itself, and to allow it decisively to confront the more authentic possibilities, of subjective and objective life, which it effaces through its normal rational dispositions and attitudes.

Jaspers believed we could counteract these impulses and manipulations.  Clearly Glover does as well.

I’m afraid, though, we are struggling against a great deficit.  One begins to despair when seeing so much money poured into projects to further the cause of narrow-minded profit and domination.

It is why I have only one suggestion: we must devalue the word; we must devalue creation by scientific destruction and reconfiguration; we must promote immersion in the human capacity to create ephemeral beauty.  I believe music and the physical, bodily arts are our best, if not only, hope in regaining our humanity.  There can be nothing virtual in the learning and practice of these arts; they can reconnect us to the harmonic vibrations that course within us and through to remind us of our small part in a magnificent whole.


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