Have you encountered the phrase "digital divide"? I imagine more than once. What does it mean to you? Is it expanding, contracting or the same as it was? What's on either side, and how do you know where you are? If you do only do email on a PC, are you on one side (which side?); if you only use SMS where are you? It's not clear cut anymore, and it also depends on your point of view.
eSchool News published A look at the technology culture divide recently, the author made a bizarre assumption - that the "have" side of the digital divide is static. According to this, the "digital divide" came into the mainstream in the mid-1990s via speeches by then President Bill Clinton and Vice President (and self-proclaimed inventor of the Internet) Al Gore.
Do you think someone who was on the "digital" side of the divide in 1996 is still on that side today? At that time, being "digital" would have meant owning a computer with access to the Internet (via a modem connected to a land line). Say that was me, and that I'm still using the same or similar equipment today; how do I compare (my PC + internet access, living in Seattle) to three 15 year old brothers I met recently in Angola who have smart phones with data plans but don't really use PCs? Is it clear who has the advantage?
Now take a look at this article also in eSchool News about the excessive proliferation of hardware in learning. This author suggests it's not about more hardware (I agree), but that we need the right software packages (he enumerates four requirements); once we have these, no more change is needed, and our now "futurized" school system can happily live in this new steady state.
Education is not about social networks, mastery of existing assessments, or basic reading; it is about preparing every child to discover and become their greatest selves, and to prepare every child to survive (and hopefully thrive) in whatever future lies ahead. All we know about the future is that it will come; to create a static system that is based on today's state of the art (just because we can't grasp a more advanced or changed future) is naive at best, and assured to NOT prepare children for their future.
These authors are like Al Gore when he proclaimed Internet paternity - they're trying to lay claim to ideas that they don't fully grasp, and making absolute that which is always changing. As Seth points out, it's very easy to be manipulated - all you need to do is string together the right kitsch phrases, and prey on people's fears or avarice. It's a sure-fire way to win followers and influence people, but it is devoid of integrity.
Rather than railing about the digital divide, we need to bemoan the intellectual divide that has made adults in our society gullible enough to believe this kind of propaganda.
For those who wish we could go back a generation to the time when our education system was wonderful, and when we graduated the best and the brightest on this planet, I would point out the following: more adults in America are illiterate vs. the top 20 economies on Earth. More than half of Americans adults are unable to identify the precise location of Washington DC or New York or Los Angeles on a blank map (forget naming the capital of Canada or pointing to its location). More Americans bought mortgages beyond their means, believe they can healthily lose weight via diet pills, and believe the Earth is flat than any other nation in the OECD top 20.
I'm exaggerating to make a point, but it's important to realize that many of the people making decisions about our children's education are both victims of their own (potentially weak) education, and susceptible to the random and ill-informed rhetoric of others. Rather than trusting education to people whose only qualification is electability (by these same ill-informed crowds), shouldn't we put it in the hands of the best and brightest and most successful among us?
It's time to get our collective heads in the game...