Same Rules, Different Game?

When I got back to work after spring break on Monday there was a brand new interactive white board mounted in the middle of the blackboard in my classroom. Though I have long wanted one and am very excited to see one in my room, I have not used it. My principal, though smart and forward-looking, does not have a clue how these things work and did not order the USB or VGA cables required. He also has not scheduled any training and thinks that once we get the boards running teachers will intuitively know how to use them to improve teaching and learning.

At first the IWB seems to be one of the great leaps technology allows us to take, from 19th century chalk on slate technology directly to this century’s seemingly magic information systems.

On deeper reflection I see the principal’s ignorance as a metaphor for the revolution allegedly happening in education: people with excellent intentions are doing a half-assed job of implementation.

The touts say technology will transform education from the 19th century industrial model to an evolving 21st century system that will make learning student-directed, individualized and far more effective.

After all, technology is Superman. Seemingly mild-mannered and unthreatening, it knocks down restrictive classroom walls, moves near the speed of light, is able to leap over wide achievement gaps and will revolutionize teaching and learning.

And pigs will be pilots.

Technology, as it is allocated and implemented in American schools. It maintains 19th century education models instead of destroying them.

When it comes to tech my students are still on the outside looking in, trapped in the 19th century model of social welfare: the poorhouse. We are forced into an aging and uncomfortable building where the City and foundations throw us scraps that excite our bellies but provide insufficient nutrition. Given an egg and a pie pan, but no flour or recipe, we’re told to bake cake and feed ourselves.

Meanwhile, some people are revolting by creating similar publicly funded but privately run poorhouses where lucky children chosen by lottery all have to dress the same. They get what seems to be slightly better food but are forced to sit at the table longer and eat as much as the overlords say. Though able to look through windows that let them see and hear everything, they’re told what to look at and, just like at old poorhouses, lack the background knowledge to make sense of it.

None of this is intentional. Despite evidence to the contrary, I do not believe there is some great conspiracy to maintain the inequalities of our society. Well-meaning, dedicated and generous people work hard to improve both kinds of poorhouses. They push here and tweak there, and seem to with the game by rising standardized exam scores.

Using the same old scorecard shows that the game hasn’t yet changed in a substantial way. Its like baseball adding the designated hitter and making the fences further away when what’s really needed is each batter being able to choose the ball, pitcher and number of swings before striking out.

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Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

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6 Responses to Same Rules, Different Game?

  1. msreagan says:

    Great post. I can identify with receiving technology with no training and then being asked, “Well, why haven’t you used it?” Another classic–>”That’s why technology doesn’t help education, because it just sits there in the classroom collecting dust.”

    I also teach in a high poverty area in NC. There are so many inconsistencies in the resources and funds that are allocated to the different LEAs in our state. It seams that the poorer counties get left holding the bag and then are looked upon as not serving their students. Its definitely a tough situation to work in.

    • Deven Black says:

      When people think of poverty they often think of the concentrations of it in large cities, but there is as much poverty in the suburbs and rural areas of the country.

  2. dtitle says:

    Excellent post! Lately, I have repeatedly heard that technology will create a “flat earth” where there are no mountains and no distances to block student interactions. These people do not understand that poverty is, and always has been, the one true distance between learners in our public schools.

    The doorways to these hypothetically planar lands are locked for too many of our schools. Unless there is training for teachers in impoverished districts as there is in bountiful ones, until all students have equal access to technology, until funding is equitable for all students, then the door to a flat earth will remain barricaded. Poverty is distance.

  3. Ira Socol says:

    In 1842 it took a six-month series of articles in the nation’s premier educational journal to teach students how to use the then new chalkboard and student-held slate.

    It is a shame that educational leaders now are often not as enlightened as those back then.

    No technology is native. It all must be learned and supported. And if educational leaders cared about students at all, they’d fully embrace and support everything which might help students learn.

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