Bill Bennett's Online Schoolhouse

The former U.S. education secretary says homeschooling parents can be more successful than teachers.

William J. Bennett, America's favorite "compassionate conservative," bestselling author of books on values and education, Ronald Reagan's secretary of education and George Bush Sr.'s drug czar, is founder of K12 Inc., a new online curriculum being marketed to homeschoolers and virtual charter schools. He spoke recently with Beliefnet's family producer, Wendy Schuman.

You used to be skeptical about using computers in education. What changed your mind?

David Gelernter changed my mind. David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale, he's a well-known writer and social critic, he's a conservative like I am, one of the few professors at Yale who's a conservative. He's probably most famous for being the first target of the Unabomber. He's a brilliant man who is probably more skeptical about technology than I am. When I was approached about being the chairman of the board of K12, I called David and asked him, Can we do this, can we use the technology and do it right, and make the technology a helpful auxiliary, not the end in itself and not get so enraptured with the technology that we lose sight of the main aim of the project? And he said, Yeah, we can do it. And so we have built the system, the program that has done just that. The technology's good, it's simple, it's clear, I don't understand it. It's very complicated underneath. But it's a means to an end, and the end is to get the child and the parent to the substance of education.

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You mentioned that you were approached. Did this idea not originate with you?

The idea of a school that everybody could go to via technology has long been an idea of mine, but the specific proposal was put forward by Ron Packard, who is a member of the advisory board of Empower America and works for the Knowledge Universe Learning Group. When Ron came to see me, he was carrying a copy of the book "The Educated Child," which I wrote three years ago. He said "We want to turn this book into a school. How would you like to be principal of the largest school in the world?" I said maybe, maybe.

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