I just read an article in The Christian Science Monitor Weekly (January 23rd issue) called “POWERING UP–One town’s quest to join the school tech revolution, and what it says about digital inequality in the US,” by Kyle Spencer. Spencer is a seasoned journalist whose articles on education appear in a range of journals, and whose focus is on inequality in education in the United States.
Her article was thought-provoking as she presents Greeley, Colorado, a rural, working-class area where “one in 5 residents lives below the poverty level, often in a home without high-speed internet service,” and where most of the children “live in threadbare mobile homes and modest, low slung dwellings.”
One of the many challenges faced by the school district is to provide basic technology so that its’ students may become sufficiently IT proficient to eventually enter and compete in the work force. The high school is ill-equipped, for example, and Spencer describes a couple of high school seniors who are sharing an aged laptop as they try to apply to a community college on “College Day” at their school. Doggedly trying to raise funds to improve the schools’ IT capabilities, the mayor, Tom Norton, argues that these students “can’t wait until they’re 30 years old. They have to learn early.” They’re already trying to come up from under, he explains, and can’t afford to be held back any more than they already are.
“In wealthy school districts around the country,” Spencer writes, “parents and teachers talk often about keeping computer use to a minimum. The students live in homes with multiple laptops, iPads, tables, iPhones—Everything…But for hundreds of poor districts across the United States, especially in modernizing agricultural communities like Greeley, the struggle is entirely different. It’s about helping students with limited tech skills be prepared for a global economy that is becoming increasingly digitized. Yet these are often the districts with the fewest resources, the districts failing to move somehow beyond the era of the floppy disk.”
She makes a good point and one that many of us likely forget—how under-funded U.S. schools provide inadequate education and opportunities to their students in very literal and tangible ways. How many of us reading this can imagine our children in an educational setting where there isn’t a working computer that she can use? Or of our child not being able to complete assignments that involve a computer because we don’t have internet at home—or a device with which to use it?
This doesn’t mean that excessive screen use by kids isn’t a concern—it still is; but it’s worth noting that the concern is born of a certain level of privilege and, as my middle child would say, is a “champagne trouble” of sorts. IT “fluency” is undeniably important in our day and age, and while some of us have the luxury of saying “turn off the screens,” a lot of parents are wishing their kids had one to turn on.