Last week's article about making online learning a more substantial part of post-pandemic schooling raises some familiar questions about what education is ("Online learning may outlast pandemic," front page, Feb. 17). Is there a significant difference between online social interaction and face-to-face interaction? As long as the student learns to do quadratic equations and write an essay on Sojourner Truth, does it matter how she has learned these things? If her SAT/ACT scores are high, hasn't she received a good education? Or is there more?

As technology edges toward the center of our lives, the question has gained a new relevance. Most would agree that there is a vital social dimension of education. One important thing we begin to learn in school is how imperfect and needy we humans can be. Good teachers help us learn to address our own needs and those of others. Many fortunate children have the opportunity to encounter human differences in their classroom — differences in religion, cultural background, skin tone and economic status. It is hard to believe that the understandings gained in such a classroom could be achieved in an online unit on diversity.

As we move into an increasingly mediated way of living, we might argue that the time kids spend with electronic devices is the critical education they need for survival and flourishing. If success in adult life means sitting at a console pressing keys to manipulate information on a screen, then the more online schooling the better, I suppose. Maybe in this new world the human differences encountered in classrooms will fade into the distance and disappear. (I doubt it and I shudder to think what this might mean.)

I believe that cautious monitoring of where we are and where technology is taking us is critical and can only be done by people, including children, who have their feet firmly grounded in the unmediated world.

Stephen Parker, Minneapolis
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In a time when many have been promoting the necessity of in-person learning for all school students, I am surprised that Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, would be proposing that the state approve online driver education courses that can be taken "at any time, day or night, without an instructor present," quoting the article. ("Bill would allow online driver's ed," Feb. 16.) If distance learning has truly been failing our students, why would he suggest that an effective, in-person, teacher-lead driver-training curriculum be replaced with virtual teleconferences?

Engaging students in a classroom setting can be challenging. This proposal would allow students to log on to a virtual presentation, potentially without accountability for participating or even remaining in front of the screen. Just because technology makes it possible to do this doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Mickey Bluedorn, Fridley

The writer is a driver's education instructor.


Churchgoing is no automatic fix

In response to Keith C. Burris' article in Opinion Exchange ("What America needs is a moral awakening," Feb. 22), I would like to say first and foremost that I agree that with most of what he said and in particular his desire to find political middle ground. There is only one thing I take issue with, which is the statement that Americans need to go back to church to rediscover their morality. As someone who was raised in a Christian household but no longer considers themselves religious, this is a sentiment that I have experienced firsthand. Morality does not necessarily stem from religion, as so many seem to assume. Rather, I believe it comes from the most humanistic aspects of our nature.

I left the faith because of what I saw as rank hypocrisy among the faithful, who would rather see a world of Christian supremacy than anything resembling Jesus's message or what Burris described. Now, I know this is not the way all Christians think, and that many take the lessons of acceptance and charity that Jesus preached to heart. But there are also people who go to church every Sunday where the gospel of Donald Trump is read alongside the gospel of Jesus. In essence, these churches are responsible for the rise of right-wing fringe movements that have imperiled the country. I do think good churches can help to bridge this divide, but only once they start confronting the fringe elements of their own faith.

John Keilholz, Minneapolis
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Burris' claim that "the good guys are leaving" American politics doesn't address the fact that so many new good guys, and women, are arriving to help — leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who helped raise nearly $5 million to help those suffering in Texas. Rather than wring your hands about the departure of old leadership with vague calls for a "mass return to churchgoing," look for a new generation of helpers. They are there. They just don't look like the old generation of helpers.

Ray Lancon, St. Louis Park

Behavior, not woke credentials

So now the Minneapolis Police Department, short-staffed and facing a violent crime epidemic, is asking if new recruits have social justice credentials ("MPD gets approval to hire more cops," editorial, Feb. 22). Favored candidates will have degrees in "criminology, social work, psychology or counseling" and be able to demonstrate that they "volunteer" or "work with young people." Why do those credentials sound familiar to me?

Well, maybe it's because cops involved in the tragic death of George Floyd would have likely met those recruiting standards. One was a volunteer tutor with a charity serving Somali young people, and another volunteered to build a school in Haiti. Even Derek Chauvin hardly met the stereotype of a culturally isolated suburbanite, being formerly married to a refugee and working security for many years at a Latin American nightclub in Minneapolis.

Maybe the key to a more effective police force isn't adding woke recruiting credentials to a job that requires being able to stand up to violent criminal suspects. Not many sensitive flower children are effective at that essential role of police. Instead, how about implementing more actionable reforms like the new ban on neck restraints and the legal duty on officers to intervene when they believe another is using excessive force? And how about training so that police engage medical resources immediately when a suspect shows signs of physical distress, rather than long into the encounter, as happened with George Floyd?

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City Attorney Jim Rowader's beliefs about policing in Minneapolis are important and true ("Why I am one of many seeking justice," Opinion Exchange, Feb. 9, and "City attorney wades into police debate," metro section, Feb. 19). I practiced criminal law here for 36 years and saw many examples of the police misconduct that troubles him. But he is blocked from a role of leading reform because his office defends the city in police violence cases.

The city should consider opening a small, independent, separate office to defend it in these cases. The public defender has a "conflicts panel" to take cases of co-defendants whose defenses conflict with other clients. The city could do the same.

Then the city attorney's office could help create the changes we need to see in policing. They could decline to charge suspects who suffered from police racism and unnecessary force. They could make police discipline records more transparent. They could support police leaders who want to change the culture.

These changes would be very good for the city. Individuals and communities that have suffered from our present style of policing would benefit greatly. And so would the city of Minneapolis, because in the long run it would have fewer police misconduct lawsuits to defend.

John Stuart, Minneapolis

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