Poverty, Affluence And Technology In Schools

Technology is awesome in so many ways.  It has revolutionized teaching.  But has increased the divide between the haves and have nots.

I grew up in a very wealthy suburb of New York City.  We were one of the haves.  I was spoiled financially.  Adolescence is hard for many kids.  My home life was nightmarish. But on my 16th birthday I got my own phone line and a Volkswagen Beetle.  I was a have.

In school, I needed notebooks, pens, pencils and a Spanish/English dictionary.

Now, kids need notebooks, pens, pencils, graphing calculators and Chromebooks or iPads.  And in most cases, the schools don’t provide them.

The district in which I teach is on the forefront of technology, and on the forefront of getting kids what they need.  But while chipping away at it, the socio-economic divide continues.  And the expectations of teachers, including me, contribute to that.  I have learned to build in provisions where my students can either give me the work on paper, or if they prefer, spend a couple of minutes in class transferring their homework to the computers.  Our district provides the desktops or Chromebooks for class work.

Many of my students, who are almost all immigrants, live in a room that their families rent in small apartments. These are probably in illegal apartments and they don’t even know that.  There may be 5 people living in a room that is separated from the rest of the apartment with a curtain, and sharing a kitchen with others. Electricity may be sporadic. The kids get free breakfast and lunch at the school which helps the families, but they may have only a couple of outfits that they alternate hoping that the other teens don’t notice.

Many teachers at our school quietly get the students new clothes. We occasionally get them a gift certificate for a local clothing store.  We have easy access for food pantries. But they aren’t wearing North Face and the newest Nike’s like the more affluent students.  They feel different.  And less than. They are the have nots.

These students all work, helping their families and paying for the things that are normal for teenagers now to have, like cell phones.  But many don’t have wifi.

This is true in our town and across our country, not just within the immigrant population, but with white and black families alike.  I’m not going to quote them, but the statistics are there.

In my classroom, almost everything is done on Google.  I use Google Communities, homework is done on Drive, the students and their parents can communicate with me at any hour on Google Hangout.  My students are learning user-end 21st Century Technology skills.

But many of them don’t have wifi available to them outside of school.

They are living in a room in someone else’s apartment.  They are working one or two jobs.  They are being teenagers and partying and worrying about love.  They are trying to fit into the school community.

And while doing all of this, they have to add something that the middle class and upper middle class don’t have to worry about.  Taking that extra time and effort to find wifi.

Obviously, there is the public library.  And our school stays open late a few days a week for community access.  And we have desktops and Chromebooks galore available for our students of all ages.  In the elementary schools, they can take them home with them.

But not all schools in our area are like that.  And not many schools in our country are so proactive or so accommodating.

It kills me.  It tears at my heart.

When one of my grandsons was in 4th grade, he and his classmates all needed to have an iPad to bring to school.  The couple of kids who couldn’t afford them, and they were usually immigrant kids, used the desktops in the classroom.  Like the other kids wouldn’t notice.

The added expense of an iPad would have affected my daughter’s budget, although not drastically, so my husband and I got the iPad.  But I couldn’t believe that it was a requirement at that school.  Unless you lived in abject poverty.  Now he is in a different district that requires all students to have Chromebooks.  Except the ones that can’t afford a Chromebook can use the ones at school.  But they only have one or two chrome carts in the school.  We are buying our grandson a Chromebook today.

The work must be in on time.  As a 6th grader he must read the emails from the teacher. He must work on his blog and submit it on time.  He will be able to do that, because his family can afford to buy him a Chromebook.

There is an attitude in parts of our society, that the students who live in poverty can just go to a library, that they can just go to a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, where to buy a coffee and bagel is an expense they can’t afford, but that they should sit there and use the wifi provided for free.

Oh that’s right, they can’t.  They are working to help provide for their families. The have nots.

While the haves of this country are on traveling sports teams after school and on weekends, going to museums, aquariums and on vacations, perhaps to other countries, other teens are working, and having another summer that adds to the cultural divide. The haves write about their summers on their laptops, iPads and Chromebooks at home.  Writing about experiences that the have nots, well, have not had.  The affluent teens write using their expensive smart phones, not thinking twice, just as I didn’t during my own adolescence, that not everyone has equal access.

We use technology that can, and is, revolutionizing education.  But that also places more of a burden on those who are the working poor.

We use the technology that increases the divide between the haves and have nots.



About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
This entry was posted in education and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Poverty, Affluence And Technology In Schools

  1. Great post. One thing that I have come to realize only as an adult is how sensitive kids are to wealth inequality. And their class mates who are “haves” are also sometimes not so nice about it, from what I understand. (I was home-schooled, so was sheltered from all of it.)

    Do you think the answer is more funding for technology in the poorer school districts, or is it more complicated than that? Maybe that’s a stupid question, but sometimes, when dealing with a large system with many layers of complexity, just adding more money isn’t enough to fix the problem. (That’s setting aside the issue of where to get that money in the first place…)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I’m sure that funding is the case for many districts in the U.S., but not in the suburbs in the NYC area. The district I work in is extraordinarily on top of this. We won the prestigious Intel best school district in the United States in 2012. But I feel, especially in the districts in which my grandsons live, the funding is similar to our districts. No easy answers, but I think there really needs to be more focus on this as a greater part of the socio-economic divide discussion.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. bluestempond says:

    Very interesting slice of life in today’s education. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. patty Dann says:

    Important piece. This should be a key issue the Presidential candidates should be addressing.
    We need to spread the word in every way that we can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you and this is an interesting comment. I feel the Presidential candidates should be addressing many things they are not. However, I feel strongly that education is an important, if not the most important, key to ending poverty. So the educational playing field must be level. Technology is the future. But let’s give all children an equal chance. And that is NOT with the Common Core ( my feelings on that are for another day, another post).


  4. QueenyCC says:

    Its always nice to see someone else speak on these issues. Working in the school system was a true eye opener for me. I am not, nor have I ever been a HAVE. But, I had NO idea the level of poverty and the barriers that are before many of the youth. I would have a large influx of children come into my office on Monday morning requesting food because they had not eaten. Of course, I am thinking they didn’t eat breakfast–NO! They have not eaten since lunch on Friday! Until I worked with mass populations of students I was blissfully unaware! Like most people!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I was the same. The eye-opener for me was when, years ago, a colleague was taking her class for a field trip down the road to the public library. She was going to show them how to get library cards, etc. This would take several periods and most of the kids would miss their lunch period. She didn’t realize that. I had those same students a different period, and one of the girls told me about it and that she was worried because she would be missing the opportunity to eat that day. The problem was solved by these high schoolers eating lunch in my period before their mini-excursion. This made me realize how much I don’t know.


  5. QueenyCC says:

    In a country as rich as ours we should devote some time to closing the financial gap between the top 2% and the bottom 10%. Everyone should have the basic necessities–and anything that involves education should be equal access.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. lorriedeck says:

    This has been true for a very long time. When my son was in elementary school, they were given an assignment that required the use of a video recorder. (Remember those?) We didn’t have one. I was furious that a school would assume that every kid would have one or have access to one because I knew for a fact that some of the kids in his class, although not immigrants, did not have much at home. I knew this because I had been in their homes….as a child welfare worker. I did not buy a video recorder. I knew I probably could have, but I was worried about those other kids who I knew could not. I wrote the teacher a letter. She then put kids together into teams, with one team member bringing the recorder.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      That’s a great idea. For many districts though, and this is just my opinion, it is more systemic than a particular teacher giving assignments. And, like your child’s teacher, I’m sure many educators are not knowingly contributing to this divide. We will always have the haves and have nots. I think the differences are glaring, and glaringly felt, in middle school and high school. I just think the discussion about technology should exist. And I want to reiterate that I’m so fortunate to teach in the district I do. We are light years ahead of other areas.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ann Coleman says:

    That is a good point, and one that I haven’t thought of before. If the schools are going to make technology a requirement, then they should also provide it. Our local school district did give all high-schoolers an I-pad, but some were not happy with that decision. And it got complicated when the I-pads were used for things other than education, or immediately lost or stolen. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know that schools should be helping the “have-nots” through education, not making their burden even heavier than it already is. Thanks for addressing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you. The kids must be responsible if items are lost or broken and pay for them. There are no easy answers, but I think the questions need to be asked. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.


  8. Paul says:

    Personally, I don’t like all this technology in schools and am glad I went through school before technology took over the way it is now. There was something enjoyable about learning how to write letters and cursive for the first time and then having to write out one page creative writing stories with a pencil. If kids now do that on the computer or iPad, how do they develop their penmanship? They didn’t teach me how to use a computer at school. If anything, I was the one teaching them. I guess what I’m saying is, kids will always have the chance to learn technology outside of school, let them stay away from it for the hours they are at school. Might help them develop an attention span and not think the world revolves around looking at a screen and how much battery is left.

    Sorry, this comment was all over the place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I’m really glad any time you comment. Sometimes we agree completely, other times you show me a different perspective. I think the problem with technology isn’t the technology itself (tons of people at the school can train others) but the added burden it puts on kids who don’t have the time and money due to poverty.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bea dM says:

      Hello, I wouldn’t go as far as wishing penmanship were brought back, but agree that all this technology doesn’t teach real learning and life skills at all. I live in Italy where schools would be considered medieval by Americans (and some aspects are) as technology hasn’t taken over in schools … yet. I’m actually appalled by what I saw on my recent trip to the USA: kids who don’t know how to find their way with a paper map, do knee-jerk googling for everything from the nearest popcorn stand to where to find toilet paper. WiFi as a given, like food and water? Beyond crazy: this next generation will be totally lost should/when the grid collapse/s….

      Liked by 2 people

  9. It’s a great, heartfelt piece Barb. The haves and haves nots – I feel the emotions you poured out on the great divide with technology. Kind of oxymoron since tech is supposed to help, not hinder. Yet it does become a burden for those who does not have money/time. Life was much simpler when pen, paper and real books were the only things we need to learn and propel ourselves forward. Rich or poor.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Call me Cordelia says:

    I teach in Kansas City, we have a lot of the same issues and challenges and also provide laptops but don’t seem to stop and think about how most kids cannot access wifi outside of school. I appreciate this post deeply. I’ve wanted to write something similar, but could not find the right words (only frustration and anger). Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sima says:

    The school I was working at wanted to bring iPads to campus but the school would buy them and the students parents could sign a waiver they would pay for them if there were damages. If students like foster kids, couldn’t pay then they would just leave the iPads in the classroom. I thought this was a good way to make sure we don’t make poverty stricken children so visible. We have to make education accessible and if iPads are required it makes it unaccessible! Great post! This was a thought provoking subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you and that’s very similar to what my district does. It makes sense! I understand that funding plays a big part, but companies can also give districts big breaks and discounts. Wonderful comment and you help educate us all more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s