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Have You Heard: Mail Order Schools: The Past and Present of Distance Learning

Students flailing without real teachers. Sky-high dropout rates. Aggressive sales pitches. Sound familiar? Have You Heard revisits America’s first great love affair with distance learning, the learn-by-mail craze that swept the nation 100+ years ago. The case for distance learning made by the original (for profit) edu-preneurs was virtually identical to what we’re hearing today. But while they sold the promise of “personalized learning” free from the distraction of classmates, distance learning 1.0 suffered from the same problem that plagues its 21st century counterpart: learning alone has never worked for the vast majority of students. Special guests: education historian Bob Hampel and “Young Jack,” a student at an early 20th century correspondence school. Complete transcript available here.

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Jennifer Berkshire

Jennifer Berkshire is a freelance journalist and public education advocate. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baffler, Salon, Alternate, the Progr...

Jack Schneider

Jack Schneider is an assistant professor of education at UMass Lowell and the director of research for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Asses...