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Chalk and Technology Talk..Creating Learning Landscapes
Digital Divide, Digital Equity and Martin Luther King...

Posted by Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Digital Divide( here and now and then)Ö..
When I was a child, growing up in a black neighorborhood which was an enclave, and perhaps a ghetto of the mind for some, I used to escape it by using books, and a ride on a bus to the Smithsonian.

I loved that place and James Smithson who brought his money to our Nationís Capitol as a gift for learning to America. I go to those buildings as often as I can. Ok, there was also a janitor who gave me books from the big public library I passed about every Saturday. I think I was an adult before I realized that he was trying to help me, becaus he called me racial names. But I took the books anyway. I thought about him when I climbed the poles and took down the Confederate flags that used to be on every corner for parades. After I had about 100 flags, I didnít have much pleasure doing this, so we burned them and thought of something else to do.

My new mission was to go to state contests in math and science and make them remember me because I was smart . They remembered me, but they didnít give me any scholarships. Oh well , so I became a teacher. There were alway scholarships around for teachers.

My University, The Smithsonian

The Smithsonian was my university on Sundays, we would pick a museum and look, and look, and look and study and pick up all of the leaflets and do the interactive displays, see the movies and then eventually tired, my sisters and I would go have an icecream treat and then get on the bus to go back home.

My mother and father were in church almost all of Sunday , but they did not mind us going to the Smithsonian. We were growing up in the time of Martin Luther King. My mother and father were Baptist, we had become Catholics. Education was important to us.

We were a part of a mission school run by the Josephite fathers and supported by the Kelly family of Philadelphia. None of that made sense to me. In fact I only understood that it was a mission school from the collection envelope, and the fact that my mother would not allow us to take any of the recycled clothes that they made available to the students my mother proudly made all of my clothes ( until I was 25). We wore uniforms.

We were sort of NCLB, we prayed a lot , I still have knobby knees from so much mass with no kneelers and we had no science, no physical education a lot of religion, but we did write in ink in the first grade. Go figure. It must have been an Irish thing. We had tests but there was a difference. You could test out of the class you were in if you already had the skills.

We stood in lines while sister ran a bell. We had hotdogs for lunch if we did not bring our own food or go home. No frills. A tiny library.I did get a good imagination from all of those histories of the saints.
My school had dark Italians, American Indians, Blacks and Hispanics. We had kids named Jesus, and Amhed, and Morning Dawn. One year we had a Chinese student but for some reason Chinese and Japanese students were allowed to go to the white public schools.

The Public thought .. Education is Important

My point is that weíve got to continue focusing attention on whatís important in this society. And whatís important is knowledge and education and access to information whether it be at the Smithsonian or on the Internet or at NASA , or in a book. I still buy books, for reasons of my own. They are incredibly portable and I have not a device that is as comfortable to take around and to read. The information in books does not disappear when the website goes down, and often it is confirmation of something I have found on the web. Everything in books is not true, nor is the information we find on the web all correct. We have to be able to assess all kinds of information ..a kind of literacy. There should be all kinds of literacy and awareness raising work. All kids are not digital natives in a good way.

And what am I invisible? I am a teacher who is working at many levels of technology. STEM advocate , and I am often ignored. So be it.

Speaking of books, in my city of Washington DC, most of the public libraries are closed. A child canít go to the public library in many areas because it is a library on wheels that comes now and again. This is a sad state of affairs. Washington, DC is a city that has had one new school in 35 years. There is a horrible library named after Martin Luther King.. downtown. I wonít say more.

New Stadium, 100 year old average schools. The congress is in charge of our budget you see.You donít even want to know the way the old schools look, or are in fact, as crumbling buildings are a part of the learning landscape. I taught for three years in a DC school and then my pocketbook a lot lighter, I escaped back to the schools in Arlington County. The school systems of Montgomery County and Fairfax County are so different as systems. There is no comparison. There are dedicated teachers who stand in those DC classrooms and endure the conditions. I was not strong enough. I would rather have walked the streets than to have stayed one more minute. Walking the streets was not an option. I donít want to tell you the tales of horror, because you can read them in books written by experts with documentation. Read some Johnathan Kozol.

Civil Rights Movement?Is it over? No

You can read the history of the civil rights movement, and learn of the progress which has been slow. Forty years after the civil rights movement galvanized the nation, its great promise to end racial divisions is stalled on many fronts. Brown vs the Board of Educatio came true but so slowly and then resegregation happened by economics and race. Thatís true until you get to a certain level of accomplishment and earning, I believe because now you can escape the ghetto. A funny thing is that most of the so called ďexpertsĒ on civil rights are not really experts. Many white.. I doubt if anyone would let me be the expert on other cultural groups, but that is the way it is. But the truth is that most people have forgotten that we are still having difficulty.

Can you say urban schools?

There are a thousand websites with a little bit of the information. Most of the horrible conditions are now just in urban schools, and very poor rural schools where students of all kinds and all colors go to learn. What they may learn is that they are just considered receivers, of media. No one wants to invest in their learning as a given. Native Americans have a special burden, some even without the first kinds of technology, a telephone. Most people donít know about that but there are those who are trying to do something about that . Cell phones are going to finally be a part of the environment, but it is a slow happening on most reservations because of redlining in the true sense.
Evidence of stark inequality abounds in virtually every economic and social sphere, and too many members of racial and ethnic minority groups live in a reality where opportunity remains color-coded.

Unattended, this tragedy may well prove apocalyptic. Racial gaps in education, income and financial wealth have been widening for over a decade, notwithstanding the significant progress made during the 1970s and 1980s. Minorities generally die younger and receive poorer quality healthcare than whites. There are sections of my town that donít have hospitals. They were closed. But thatís another story.

Prisons of the Mind

Prison as a Future

Prisoners of a bad Education

The vast majority of our prison population is made up of people of color, and minorities are dramatically over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice process. Thatís why we call it Just US. Schools are steadily resegregating, and suburbs face emerging patterns of racial and class segregation that threaten to recapitulate inner city ills. We know where the best schools are and the best teachers. Its where the money is. Not in our neighborhoods.

I should mention AIDS and the terrible statistics of childbirth here which is as low and sad as those of developing countries. AIDS.. the prison population has increased and one in four minority males are affected. So too affected are those who are a part of their families from the ever spreading AIDS epidemic to the poor quality of life that many experience. There is also a growing population of white students below the poverty level. Too bad that we donít have the funds to invest in our own youth, our own health care and our own societies. It has been a long while since anyone mouthed the words great society. I think it has left the memory a la Ronald Reagan,Ö his goal.

For those of us who transited through that era, we know that there were many who never learned to read , or to have any but domestic skills, some were fortunate to have vocational skills. Farming, and domestic skills were accepted as the only thing that minorities needed . In my motherís era there were many ladies who rode the bus to families to cook and care for their young.

We may not see them on television as Paula Deen and Martha Stewart and other claim the legacy of our women. My sister is a civil rights lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission . When she proposed a certain set of recipes for the gathering that they do for Black History Month, she was told that she had to authenticate the recipes.

Virginia, and the south had a legion of black cooks. Many were trained at Monticello or trained by others who learned from the knowledge of Thomas Jeffersonís interest in culinary arts. I donít even know if home economics is being taught. Career and skills based education have been under attack. We used to have some industries and business that we were fluent in or at least were in our cultural enclaves, hairdressers, funeral parlors flower shops, health care professionals, handymen, plumbers, carpenters and painters. We are not on the cooking shows or this old house. We are mostly the receivers if you donít like certain kinds of videos.

What Can Education do for Our Students? Are you kidding?

Thereís a point at which some of our students, because of public institutions, because of structural infirmities, arenít getting the same level of understanding of what technology or education can do for them. The dropout rate is so huge we know we are failing them. Do we expect them all to go to college? Do we put them in a bind, into a lockstep that is inescapable? I think so.

Imagine a child with access to television, video games, Ipod and radio and other devices. Then put that child into a room with a teacher who talks and tests all the time, or who has prescribed ways of teaching that all fit to no child left behind. How deadly boring do you think that room would be and how much attention do you think a child would pay to that nonsense. I had to learn to be a different kind of teacher with the advent of the use of technology.

Can you imagine who the idiot is that then decided that more of the same constitutes an after school program? Please sentence them to some of that mind boring assault on intelligence.

Technological literacy, a broad understanding of the human-designed world and our place in it, is an essential quality for all people who live in the increasingly technology-driven 21st century.
One useful way to think about technological literacy is as a component of the more general, or ďcultural,Ē literacy popularized by educational theorist E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Hirsch pointed out that literate people in every society and every culture share a body of knowledge that enables them to communicate with each other and make sense of the world around them. The kinds of things a literate person knows will vary from society to society and from era to era; so there is no absolute definition of literacy. In the early twenty-first century, however, cultural literacy must have a large technological component.

Technological literacy is a much richer concept than computer literacy, although the two are often confused. Technological literacy can be thought of a comprising three interrelated dimensions that help describe the characteristics of a technologically literate person. All of our citizens need to understand technology.

There is also a difference between being able to walk down the street to a public institution that provides you access to things you canít get at home. A hidden problem is the training of the academic professionals, teachers and the like. The divide between a minority based institution and a research institution may be miles.

When I talk about a minority based institution, it could be an HBCU, an Hispanic Based Institution or a Native American Tribal College. We know that those are not the only kinds of minorities, but those are the identified minority based groups at this time.

In thinking about Martin Luther King there are two schools of thought. I was astonished to hear a person affront any of us who would call up his memory by saying donít talk to me about Martin Luther King.I wanted to say, say what? But I was polite.

I think I stopped listening to this person then. It was not that she was not using technology, it was not that she didnít have good ideas I guess, but she glossed over some very important milestones in my history, and probaby does not know the pain that we who were from that era had in getting education.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. ďGeorge Santayana

I knew that Martin Luther King was a preacher and I knew about the civil rights movements. The image of Emitt Till is etched into my memory. The pictures of the dogs that were let loose on crowds is a part of the iconography in my mind, and the burned bodies of some of the civil rights workers , the three of them who happened to be an integrated team comes up now and again.

Martin Luther King. Thirty years ago he was talking about technology. It was an obscure reference in a speech I found. In fact, it was his last speech here in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968.

Four days before he died he said,

ďThere can be no gainsaying about the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. That is, a technological revolution with the impact of automation and cybernation. Modern man through scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance. Through our genius we have made this world a neighborhood. And yet weówe have not yet had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this.Ē

You may think we no longer have a digital divide. Think again.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton, who did her sit ins in libraries in Appomattox, Va.
January 12th, 2007 @ 4:43PM

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