After my last post, I sent my blog link to a bunch of people, including my sister who is a teacher in a small coastal town over the hill from Silicon Valley. She teaches in an immersion Kindergarten class where half of the kids are native English speakers who learn Spanish by being “immersed” in the language, and half are native Spanish speakers who gradually learn English while retaining literacy in their native language. The division among the two groups couldn’t be more stark. The native English speakers tend to be white, affluent kids of professional parents who may commute to high tech jobs over the hill. Often they wait until their children are 6 to start Kindergarten, and they come to her class fairly literate. On the other hand, the native Spanish speakers generally have parents who work in local agriculture and are mostly poor. They send their kids to school as soon as they are able, and the students come illiterate in both languages. She once had a student who didn’t even know how to hold a book right-side-up.
Her emailed reply outlined her technology access – she has one computer in her classroom, the teachers just began taking attendance online, and they still fill our their report cards by hand in triplicate. None of the kids in her K-5 school have regular Internet access during the day, and the poor Latino kids mostly don’t have access at night either. This in a district that is so wealthy it is listed as a “basic aid” district by the state (the Districts per-pupil property tax revenue exceeds its per-pupil revenue limit and the schools are funded only through property taxes). And much of that wealth comes from the high-tech industry of Silicon Valley.
In thinking about the Digital Divide, one piece of the puzzle I hadn’t yet contemplated is the intentional lack of technology that some teachers, administrators or districts espouse. In a district that teaches Google’s own children, it must be a choice made by those in power not to have technology in the schools. As districts, PTAs and sites make difficult choices about funding, they make statements about what they think is important.
The choice to eschew technology in schools can be appealing. After all, when out of school the affluent kids are constantly connected at home, just as the parents are at work. The nostalgic memories we hold of snuggling up with a book on the couch give us comfort, and we want our kids to have that same contentment in the same way we did. But we are not thinking of the kids in our communities who don’t have technology away from school. Poor kids in affluent Districts are often ignored. Their test scores are low, but there aren’t enough of them to constitute a “significant subgroup,” so they don’t draw attention to themselves as a group. Their lack of achievement is often put off to their lack of support at home, or their lack of motivation, and they get shunted off to the alternative schools or to the low track classes.
This conundrum reminds me of the whole language debate, and Lisa Delpit’s classic Other People’s Children. In that book, and in other writing, Delpit argues that it is incumbent upon public schools to teach the codes of power that students will need to be successful in the dominant culture. Thus, although teaching students to love writing and reading in general, we also need to specifically teach the academic language and habits that students will need for post-secondary success. Kids raised in the dominant culture can and will get this at home, but the others will not. There is no doubt that technology is a tool of power – you can’t even apply for a job at the local supermarket without going online.
And so I argue that teaching with and about technology is not a luxury, and even those of us in wealthy districts cannot choose to “unplug.” We need to find the funding and support in all districts so that all students can get the skills and experiences they need to be successful in a digital age.