Better Basics not Back to Basics

by Ted Nellen

I teach a class called Cyber English to public high school students in New York City. My classes use the Internet as the realm in which they learn about themselves. Over 200 students create their own web pages, which serve as their webfolios. I could provide many arguments and give many examples which adequately demonstrate the power of the computer and the Internet in a classroom today. However, I will only discuss one, and let you visit our site to see the others for yourself. Mentoring is a worthy aspect of education which has yet to realize its full potential, until now that the Internet is here. The Internet helps make mentoring work.

For many hundreds of years, our society has discussed education as being the most important single resource a free nation possesses, and yet it does nothing but cripple it by its own actions. From the days of our founding fathers' concept that education was crucial in generating an intelligent voting populace to the rhetoric spoken by modern politicians seeking our votes, the leaders have spoken about the importance of education, but done little to act on those fine ideas. One such idea was a project called "partnership". Partnership was going to have community volunteers come into the schools and assist the teachers and administration in the glory and task of educating our children. We were to tap the resources of these volunteers who have so much to offer. However, this did not materialize. Teacher unions frowned on it, because it may compromise their brethren. Parents nixed it because they were not sure who was coming into their children's classrooms. Administrators worried about legal things and would relegate these volunteers to baby sitting chores or mundane administrative tasks until other matters were ironed out with unions and parents. In the mean time nothing good was happening and volunteerism evaporated.

Well along comes the Internet and everything changes. Experts from all over the world are suddenly admitted into the classroom. Everyone heralds these virtual guest appearances by experts of their fields as one would welcome an honored guest into the classroom. Finally, a good concept has come to be realized. We, in the classroom, can tap the retired, the working, the willing to come into our classroom for a virtual visit and impart his or her expertise, wisdom, and knowledge.

In my classroom, one of our many projects is called Adopt-A- Student. Not much different from the adopt-a-highway campaign, we function the same way. Kathy Casper, of InfoQuest Web Design and Research approached me after viewing our school's web page and proposed this idea. She maintains a list of 2000+ people around the world who maintain their own web pages, are business leaders, and are generally interested in the advancement of the Internet. She began by doing a piece about our school and kids, in her Free Launch section, and then asked her readers to visit our site, to read the work, and to adopt a student. These professionals began assisting me and the students with their web pages, with their work which was in need of help, and with giving advice. All of a sudden, my students had more than one teacher or guide. These virtual visitors were safe, non threatening, and helpful. Different points of view, reinforcement of my educational edicts, and real life criticism became major forces in the education of my students. These mentors brought expertise, caring, compassion, and patience with them. They verified what I was trying to do by saying the same things differently. I was not threatened; the kids were growing, communicating and learning; and the mentors were impressed.

In a throw away society, I have found a great method of recycling those who still have and want to involve themselves in our future by working with children. The reality of partnership has been ironically manifest in cyberspace. Mentoring is not new. What is new, however, is the sudden successful use of and implementation of mentoring around the country.

This is one example where better basics is cyber basics. I invite you to visit our Mentoring site and see even more we are doing with the Internet and mentoring.

Ted Nellen has been teaching high school English since 1974 in private and public schools. He began teaching English in a computer room in 1984 and has used the Internet in the classroom since 1986. Be sure to visit his school's website Murry Bergtraum in NYC.