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.