Bridging the digital divide

Today our assignment (and yours) is to define the economic divide in our country in educational terms, (or vice versa), in order to turn (and paraphrase) former President George Bush’s question on ourselves: “Is our adults learning?” Because today we tend to equate advances in education with any and all things electronic. But it’s a dangerous assumption and a disservice to students, and adults, to conclude that “everyone is online” and that somehow handing a child an iPad magically evens the educational gap.

Everyone is not online. Millions of lower income and minority Americans are still offline completely, while others can afford only dial-up connections or wireless smartphones, Susan P. Crawford wrote in a 2011 New York Times commentary, “The New Digital Divide.”

The “haves” are highly wired. Studies found that 59 percent of American adults with incomes above $75,000 had a smartphone, and more than 90 percent of people at that income level had wired high-speed Internet access at home.

The “have nots” rely on over-burdened library computers for access — which is critical considering how many employers only accept online applications these day.

And while the “haves” are highly wired, it’s a safe bet their households are also full of books, and parents with education beyond high school.

So when it comes to education, we have to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater just because we’ve convinced ourselves that “everyone is online.” One group that understands the digital divide is the Kiwanis Club and its national Dictionary Project ( that puts paperback dictionaries in the hands of third graders. Herald writer Noah Haglund reported last week on the Silver Lake Kiwanis club’s participation in the project for the last seven years. The program reaches 17 elementary schools in the Everett School District as well as nine area private schools.

The dictionaries include the U.S. Constitution, biographies of the presidents, information about the Solar System and other essential knowledge. (As Linda Tyrrell, a literacy curriculum specialist for the Everett School District said: “Getting books into the hands of students is always a good thing.”)

Among the advantages of a paper dictionary over an online one is the simple ability to randomly flip through the pages and find a word that one might not ever otherwise stumble upon.

And there’s this compelling testimony from Beth of Gray Court, S.C., who wrote to Dictionary Project organizers:

“Thank you for the dictionary. I love it! It’s cool. I can use it wherever I want at home. It doesn’t slow me down like a computer…” (Emphasis ours.)

Mixing the best of old and new school practices offers the best way to level the educational field.

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