28 April 2006

Teachers and Technology 2: The SEN Component

If teachers don't imbed the culture's technology into the classroom, and if schools continue to resist the world of technology that surrounds us (see Teachers and Technology below), they will not do much damage to rich kids, or to perfect students, or maybe even to that traditional "top third" of the classroom. After all, if you eliminate music and art from schools wealthy parents will simply pay for lessons, and we all know that a certain percentage of kids will "get themselves educated" no matter what we do. So if schools don't use computers aggressively, and handhelds aggressively, and teach the power of the cell phone, the children of privilege will still get all the exposures they need through their parents and a percentage of students will still figure it all out by themselves, but those not in either of those groups will slip further and further behind. "Tracking" at its most vicious.

Technology is a leveler. Not strong enough to lift that weight? Use a winch or a lever. Not fit enough to walk ten miles to work every day? Drive your car. Memory not good enough to remember all your phone numbers and computer passwords? Write them down. Not enough time in your day to sweep your home and beat your rugs? Use a vacuum cleaner.

When a school or a teacher denies technology to students, they are limiting success to the few, the gifted, and the entitled. Saying a student can't use a calculator, or can't use a screen reader, or can't use a Pocket PC, or can't text in their answers by cell phone, or can't separate themselves from the commotion of the classroom via CD-player or mp3 player, or can't feel secure in having a phone that can call home in their pocket, or can't use on-line research tools, is discrimatory. None of this is any different than me telling members of the U.S. Congress that they can't use elevators, or that they must walk to work, because I think they'd be healthier if they got more exercise. And none of it is any different than telling a child who cannot walk that they can't use a wheelchair, because, "that is not the way we get around in the real world."

But there is a huge additional cost. Students who are not taught technology use will do significantly worse once out of "school" - assuming they don't have families that will make up the difference. Not teaching a student to effectively use Google (and Google Maps and Google Scholar) today is the same as not teaching the student where the library was 20 years ago. Not teaching students how to access podcasts denies them a vital information tool they will probably need in college. Not teaching them to use handhelds hurts them in thousands of employment possibilities from Wal-Mart on up. Not teaching them cellphone use and cellphone ettiquette is the same as not teaching writing skills. If your school is not doing these things they are in the front lines of pushing inequality and the concept of a permanent underclass - they are denying an education to those who need it most.

- still angry after all these years, Ira Socol

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