I’m moving between two deeply engaging but seemingly deeply disparate conversations these days.
I turn to engage in the first of these conversations, and I hear about poor and working class kids attending much bleaker schools than middle class kids. Middle class kids have more access to curriculum that fosters critical thinking, more experienced teachers, more resources, more parents with the time and self-assurance to volunteer in schools. Within this literature is ongoing analysis of the digital divide between higher-income and lower-income kids, between well-resourced schools and poorly-resourced schools.
I then turn to listen in to the second conversation in which I’m engaged and am hearing dazzling examples of educational technology in schools. I read postings like this from Ewan McIntosh’s excellent blog and think “Oh, yeah. Instead of turning low-achieving schools into test-prep factories, we could be opening the world to kids and kids to the world. This kind of self-directed, boundless, authentic learning could represent a huge shift in how we see lower-income kids as learners”.
Yet as I read teacher blogs and ed tech blogs (and ed tech blogs by teachers), I see reference after reference to The Archetypal Student (such as this reference to “today’s students” coming to school well-versed in IM speak in an otherwise excellent conversation on writing on Bill Ferriter’s blog. ) When I see reference to “today’s students” or “our students”, I reflexively ask “which students?”
It’s more than a bit jarring to move between these two conversations multiple times on any given day.
On the one hand, in conventional schooling, there is simply no question that one’s background makes a big difference in a child’s access to strong, innovative schooling.
On the other hand, as I click through the blogs describing innovative, engaging uses of classroom technology, I can seldom find mention of the kinds of kids present in these classrooms.
The silence about who has access these powerful forms of teaching could mean one of several things:
It could mean that there is no issue, that in the world of ed tech, kids’ backgrounds really don’t matter, because this kind of teaching is evident in lots of different kinds of schools. While we understand that few schools are, as yet, embracing these technologies, kids from all background have access to these things. That’s a given. No need to talk about it.
Yet if this is the case, ed tech people are missing a tremendous opportunity to inform that first conversation — the one that is lamenting the direct instruction, the test-prep curriculum, the angst over Annual Yearly Progress, the dispirited teachers who have lost their professional autonomy. And there is some urgency to the work of informing that conversation.
Or my fruitless clicking to find out who is being taught by these amazing teachers could mean that the ed tech blogs are describing practice in only select, well-resourced schools staffed by exceptional teachers.
Here’s my concern: Web 2.0 could potentially transform the ways that poor and working-class kids think about the boundaries of their social worlds, their potential for developing a public voice, their ability to assume a greater measure of control over the circumstances of their lives.
Or, the innovations happening in only some schools could be yet another means by which the gap between these kids and their more privileged peers deepens, another way in which they come to school already “behind” other kids and with access to fewer resources in school to catch up.
I don’t expect the people who are doing the innovation to solve this problem (if it does, indeed, exist). I’m just very puzzled that there doesn’t seem to be much discussion about the issue at all in the blogosphere.
So, where else can I find intersections between these conversations about equity and about e-innovation?
Here’s where I’ve started:
- Will Richardson posted about the Pew’s report on tagging that documents that higher-income, more educated individuals are engaging the of practice tagging more than lower-income, less educated individuals. I think that we need to be collecting and tracking information like this and then tapping what we know about the virtual world to go one better than the limitations of the material world.
- I haven’t found much at all on uses of Web 2.0 in elementary schools serving poor or working class kids.
- I have found some intriguing digital film-making projects for high school kids:
Out of school, students in San Fernando Educational Technology Team tell their own stories via digital media.
Other out-of-school programs from the Center for Digital Storytelling Website:
The Y.O.U.T.H program uses digital story to advocate for foster youth.
The DAVA program supports young people in telling their digital story so that they might become better known.
What else is going on out there at the intersections of conversations about equity and e-learning? I’m guessing ( and hoping ) that there is much more than I’m finding.