Among those who know me, it is no secret that I have been a big fan of the television show Breaking Bad. That translated into much excitement when AMC announced that they would be bringing the Breaking Bad universe back to television with the backstory of shyster, ambulance-chasing attorney Saul Goodman in the aptly titled Better Call Saul. Better Call Saul has become a fixture in my Monday evening, post-work liturgy, which is fortunate given the recent death of another of my favorite Monday-night past times.
So far, we have found out that our favorite ambulance chaser started life as James “Jimmy” McGill. He had some legal troubles and after paying his debt to society, was encouraged by his older brother, Charles “Chuck” McGill to get his life straight. Jimmy took his brother’s advice to heart, and worked as a mail-runner in the legal firm in which his brother was partner, Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill. We recently learned, in S1E8 RICO, that Jimmy secretly completed his undergraduate degree through a community college, earned his law degree, and, after several attempts, passed (presumably) the New Mexico Bar Exam.
I found the scene in which Jimmy announces his success to be interesting, due to the way that the scene implicitly deals with the issue of perception of distance education. First, there’s Jimmy’s own reticence to admit his alma mater, the in-universe accredited (though in reality non-existent) University of American Samoa. Then there’s Chuck’s own nervous retort of “correspondence school,” followed by his “as what?” response to Jimmy’s request to be hired as an attorney with the firm. Finally, there’s Chuck’s partner, Howard, who destroys Jimmy’s ambitions all while eating a piece of celebratory cake.
The whole exchange scene was a roughly three-minute exploration of some of the pitfalls of distance learning. It reminded me of a story told to me by a professor about a person they ran across at a counseling conference. This person was sitting in the floor, dejected. Turns out, it is because they just found out that, because their distance degree in counseling came from an un-accredited, distance school, no one would even consider them for employment.
So, is this a fair judgment of distance learning? I think not. The truth of the matter is that many working adults use distance learning through reputable schools to further their education and their career. In fact, studies have shown that many of those students perform better than their traditionally-instructed peers.
The problem with distance learning is not in the concept of distance learning itself. The problem with distance learning is its perception in the minds of people who associate it with diploma mills. I think this will change in time, as distance learning becomes more common and as more people interact with competent, educated people who earned legitimate degrees through distance-learning programs.
In the meantime, I think more can be done to raise the status of distance learning, and those of us who are successfully completing online programs should lead the charge.