Social Class and Digital Divides

It’s been a week of hearing about digital culture, digital divides, and social class.   First was the news that last week’s presidential debate generated an enormous amount of activity on social media.   Significantly, much of this activity was among people who do not traditionally use Twitter or Facebook for political discussions.  And then, news broke that Facebook had reached the milestone of one billion active monthly users.

Then, in class, my students who had just changed sites for the term for their student teaching internships talked of  glaring differences that they see in access to technology across schools, and within schools, of the differences that they see in access to what children have at home.

And I’ve read and re-read this piece from the excellent Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning newsletter.  The article asks ominously

Are Class Differences in Parenting Creating a New Digital Divide?”

and then seems to simultaneously argue  that parents are creating new and significant divides while also arguing that new divides are a structural, not cultural (or parenting style) problem.

The article raises key questions about dimensions of the new digital divides and why they matters for political and cultural and civic life.

And the authors quoted make key points about the challenges of parenting in these times in which digital culture is evolving more rapidly than any parent can track, and about how the skills for full participation in digital culture, largely learned informally, are not being learned as quickly by low-income kids as by middle-income kids.

The author draws extensively from Annette Lareau’s oft-cited research on social class differences in parenting to consider how the differences that Lareau observed might explain how the new digital divides are being perpetuated within families.

Several thoughts on this article

  1. Lareau makes no mention of computers or technology in the Unequal Childhoods book, in large part because the data was collected before the explosion of new participatory media.
  2. Lareau’s main focus was on how parents managed kids’ out-of-school lives, particularly how middle-class parents manage their children’s intensive schedule of “extra” competitive out of school activities.  I’m not clear how the author of this essay on digital divides decided to equate opportunity to learn digital fluency with participating in both an elite soccer league and private music lessons, about which Lareau wrote extensively.
  3. She wrote about how middle class parents also consciously socialized their children to assume entitlement when interacting with adults, interaction styles that parents themselves employed in profesional occupations.  It’s not clear how these  communication styles play out in the peer networks of social media, or whether the more playful approach to free time observed in working-class kids might not work well in informal digital learning networks.
  4. But in the end, with fluency in digital media being ever-more important for participation in public discourse (especially about politics), for connection, for creation, is there a reason that this article wasn’t titled

Schools Do Little To Bridge Growing Digital Divides, Delegate That Work to Parents

Because that seems to be the real story here.


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