I will start out by saying I looked at their class offerings a while back and don't feel strongly either way, but I did want to address some of what Amy Milstein of UnschoolingNYC had to say on her blog.
I don't strictly love the connection between Dickens and Minecraft, partly because I've never been a great reader and never been all that into Dickens, to be honest. But I get why one thought led her to another: it's not uncommon for the schoolification of something to completely ruin it.
So that's where I want to start: why do we let school ruin stuff? It doesn't have to be that way. If something becomes sucky because we do it in school, then we need to stop suckifying stuff when we schoolify it. That alone, if we could make it happen, would change everything.
But let's look specifically at Minecraft. I counter that using Minecraft in schools could be one of the ways we eliminate The Suck and bring in The Awesome. I'll come back to this.
Clearly, Amy writes a blog about Unschooling, which I completely respect. School as we know it does not work for MANY kids. Hence the growing popularity of homeschooling and unschooling. I'm all for that. But don't the folks involved in those alternatives need some accountability to prove that they're doing their kids a favor by opting out of their local public schools? I think that is what Minecraft homeschooling is trying to provide. I won't say (because I don't have any actual experience with them) whether they do it well or not, but it seems to work for some people, so yay for them.
What got and kept my attention though, is the idea that making Minecraft a school thing would somehow ruin it. First off, you can't ruin Minecraft. It's just. so. good. But even if you could, it wouldn't really be Minecraft you'd be messing with. It would be how your kid is spending her time, what kinds of learning experiences you're encouraging, etc. You don't ruin a state park by taking kids on a field trip there. You don't ruin computer programming by giving kids a ton of different ways to experience it.
If you're homeschooling or unschooling, and you've eschewed tests and grades, then rock ON with your bad selves and don't grade the Minecrafty experiences either. Give students as much choice as possible in the videos they find and watch, in the goals they set for themselves, and so forth.
When I use MinecraftEdu in my Digital World classes, which for the record are at a private independent high school, I do provide some guidelines and requirements as well as student choice within those guidelines. We make our MinecraftEdu world an extension of our classroom, and I'd have to argue that I provide a respite of non-suck from the purely academic experiences my students are immersed in the rest of their school day.
Wouldn't these kinds of experiences, if they were spread throughout our public schools, encourage some (not all, and I am cool with that) of the current homeschoolers and unschoolers to consider coming back? People have a lot of reasons for opting out of public schooling. Whether they choose private (for religious, philosophical, or other reasons), homeschooling, or unschooling, sometimes their main reason is they don't agree with how public education is DONE to their kids. Most of the awesome stuff happening in public schools, in my opinion, is being perpetrated by those who are getting around the stupid things and seeking forgiveness later rather than permission up front. (Hi Karl!)
So why not bring in fun, awesome, engaging stuff from the world where our kids are already spending a ton of their time? Just don't suckify it.