30 May 2012

"Fried Chicken 'n Watermelon" at The New York Times

"As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show."
Both The New York Times and "reporter" Matt Richtel are at it again. The Times in their battle against technology in education, Richtel in his war against poor children. [see Class War at The New York Times]

Technology is "not a savior" says The New York Times... except for their own kids
The general idea is that while rich kids will use technology well, poor kids - a dangerous alien population - will not, so rich kids should be connected to the world and this century, while poor kids need to be carefully watched and trained to "be white."

Let us tear apart one key section of Richtel's reporting on this so-called "Digital Divide" crisis:
The study found that children of parents who do not have a college degree spend 11.5 hours each day exposed to media from a variety of sources, including television, computer and other gadgets. That is an increase of 4 hours and 40 minutes per day since 1999.
Children of more educated parents, generally understood as a proxy for higher socioeconomic status, also largely use their devices for entertainment. In families in which a parent has a college education or an advanced degree, Kaiser found, children use 10 hours of multimedia a day, a 3.5-hour jump since 1999. (Kaiser double counts time spent multitasking. If a child spends an hour simultaneously watching TV and surfing the Internet, the researchers counted two hours.) 
It doesn't take an "expert researcher" to see the nonsense in the above. First, the kid with the TV on and the mobile phone in hand is not spending 11 hours a day, but 5.5 hours doing... um, whatever they may be doing because these categories are absurdly broad. At the moment, in this hour, I am spending 3 hours "wasting time on media." The television is on - HGTV, I'm writing on my computer - this post, I'm tracking mail on my mobile. In just a few hours I'll have used up more than my full day, and jump right to tomorrow.

Second, the giant gap? It comes to 1.5 hours a day - which might actually be 45 minutes, or 30 minutes, or - to be honest - who the f--- knows? Richtel has built a career out of misusing third-rate statistical analysis (he has a Pulitzer Prize for "proving" what is provably untrue - that mobile phone use has made driving in America much more dangerous), and here we go again.

Then, using the "anecdote as fact" structure which has defined Richtel's education reporting, the "reporter" finds the most connected poor child in America:
Policy makers and researchers say the challenges are heightened for parents and children with fewer resources — the very people who were supposed to be helped by closing the digital divide.
The concerns are brought to life in families like those of Markiy Cook, a thoughtful 12-year-old in Oakland who loves technology.
At home, where money is tight, his family has two laptops [obviously with broadband - IS], an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii, and he has his own phone. He uses them mostly for Facebook, YouTube, texting and playing games.
He particularly likes playing them on the weekends. 
Ummm, Matt? I've worked with a lot of poor kids, most are almost completely disconnected at home - except for their phone. When New Rochelle, NY began their 4G laptop initiative in their poor neighborhoods, they could barely find anyone with broadband, much less other laptops at home or connected video games. When I ask, whether in Michigan or Virginia, I find the poor with very little access, outside of the (often shared) smartphone. So Markiy is quite the "thoughtful" find for The Times, a find who makes "poor" parents look lazy, and poor kids - even those described as "thoughtful" poor kids - look irresponsible.  This is the - please excuse the racist expression here but I believe the connection is valid - "Lazy Darkie" theory, the idea, still expressed by the Republican Party in the United States, that African-Americans fail to succeed because they are only interested in "lazing around," dancing, and eating "fried chicken 'n watermelon" (which, honestly, has been expressed more, ahhh, bluntly in the circles of American power).

James Gee on how gaming supports learning
You know Markiy is irresponsible because he plays games on weekends and he isn't doing well in school. I could suggest reading James Geeto Matt Richtel, but information on how children develop and what they need in terms of interactive language, is not The Times goal here.

If it was, they might have reached back to their own paper two years ago:
James Paul Gee, a professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University who grew interested in video games when his son began playing them years ago, has written several seminal books on the power of video games to inspire learning. He says that in working through the levels of a complex game, a person is decoding its ‘‘internal design grammar’’ and that this is a form of critical thinking. ‘‘A game is nothing but a set of problems to solve,’’ Gee says. Its design often pushes players to explore, take risks, role-play and strategize — in other words putting a game’s informational content to use. Gee has advocated for years that our definition of ‘‘literacy’’ needs to be widened to better suit the times. Where a book provides knowledge, Gee says, a good game can provide a learner with knowledge and also experience solving problems using that knowledge.
Once again The New York Times could be looking at educational funding equity, or providing technology access in real ways, or about making schools function as relevant learning spaces instead of as worksheet factories... but they choose not too.  Once again they have turned their most anti-poor reporter loose on American schoolchildren and their parents, to degrade them, to attack them, and to help ensure that the legislators The Times influences will not give these "irresponsible" kids what they need.

Shame. Again.

- Ira Socol


David said...

Great post Ira. I've not been a fan of Richtel's work, and I agree that it certainly sounds like he's missed the mark again.

The mentality that something is good enough for my kids, but not for your kids, is pretty pervasive in certain circles, and incredibly frustrating.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ira Socol said...

I deleted an anonymous comment according to my site rules, which are that criticism - even attacks - are welcome, but they need to be "signed" - or at least offer evidence.

I sign my name here, I expect those who disagree with me to have at least the same level of personal courage.

But I'm including the comment here to illustrate why...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I came here hoping to tweet your article, but you lost me the moment you change the tone of the conversation by spouting a distorted and extreme political opinion.
"Too bad.

"30 May, 2012 12:50"

What is "extreme"? What is "distorted"? This is classic Rupert Murdoch styling... attack without even bothering to explain why.

There's nothing wrong with lazy faux intellectualism or cowardice. I just don't want to publish them together in my space.

- Ira Socol

andrew said...

You are exactly right in pointing out that the example the author used in Oakland has underlying racial tones. He used that example to reach a (for lack of better phrasing) "white audience." He made it less about education and made it a part of a bigger issue that wealthier people love to spout off about: welfare. Its ok for a wealthy person to buy their kid two gaming systems a smartphone, etc but it's financially irresponsible for a poor person to do so.

I don't think we need certain "desirable" groups of people telling others about financial responsibility. Perhaps many wealthy people have forgotten how irresponsible buying three houses or overextending a home equity line was.

Essentially a smartphone is a smart buy. A user can access internet, text, music, apps, etc. Total access for the price of the phone and plan AND you get internet anywhere. No need to pay for internet. There are some limitations to smartphones but overall which is a better purchase, a $1100 laptop or $100 phone. Keep in mind that a poor family might only own one smartphone while a wealthier family most likely has a home computer, laptop computer, smartphones with multiple lines, printer/fax, and ipods. If they have kids, the kids probably have one for each of them too.

It annoys me when people try to decide what other people should and shouldn't have, especially when those people think they should have unlimited amounts and others shouldn't have any amounts.

My wife and I work in the same county but two polar opposite schools. I have visited her class during their computer time before. You can see the difference between their inexperience with a computer and the kids at our school easily. The kids at my wife's school are learning about how to use Safari while the kids at my school know many of the keyboard shortcuts.

The questionable stats of how much time is spent using technology is just another avenue to spew a racial divide. The way the author frames the stats is to suggest that spending a lot of time using technology is bad and finds a way to correlate it with a "less desirable" group of society. This is utterly the wrong way to go. We should be concerned with those who have no access to technology.