Can the American Dream of an equitable public education

be furthered by the web? I do not see why not.

As an experiment, I am going to try to help students on the wrong side of the digital divide with web 2.0 tools. My hopeful hypothesis: that the read-write web will meet kids from disadvantaged homes where they are, give them proximal learning zone experiences their current schools don’t, and allow them to finally start closing the achievement gap.

For those not sure what the “digital divide” is, it mostly refers to the gap between the “haves” (in this case the online citizen) and the “have-nots” (those without online access). The DD can also show up in people’s attitudes and work environments, asthis nice article by at the American Association of School Librarian’s site summarizes it.

If we don’t try to close the divide, it will only grow worse or persist, as Palo Alto’s plainspoken superintendent has just admitted. Since the literacy of their homes is low, these students come into suburban middle-class schools an average of 25-35% behind their privileged peers. Meanwhile, the deprived kid is getting the same instruction, with the same materials, as the mainstream kid. And the results are maddeningly predictable: 50% dropout rates, a persistent achievement lag, and more social animus (I mean in the legal sense of “the intent to do harm to others”).

Perhaps the dream can come a bit closer for the subjects of my experiment, a small group of “at-risk” boys I am “advising” this school term.

My ideas come from what I observe them doing with authentic interest:

*they want to be able to use the web more, and I am having them keep track of their grades on a spreadsheet-google apps/docs etc. will be there for them when the semester with me is over
*they like the games–I need to build a good arcade for them
*they like food–i’ll provide snacks as comfort and inducement
*they like expressing their nascent manhoods–i’ll give them a blog; if their friends away from school are online at all, I believe it could motivate them; responsibility, rules, etc. would be discussed and practiced, which I know from my days as a publications adviser, provides excellent educational value for teens
*they like shooting the breeze–Right now, I let them speak freely as a reward. But is not a certain level of cross-talk and sociable conversation a side-effect of collaboration on web 2.0?

And I must work with program administrators to secure further support and development/collaboration. If I am not checked or do not consiously check myself, I could find myself marooned.

Here is an article in Science and Development Network about how web 2.0 tools are bringing more justice to the world’s poor right now. And notice it’s the medium, the means that’s brought to the oppressed, and not the stuff or content. That’s authentically the learners’.

Now, shouldn’t I be able to bring about a little educational justice to my at-risk students thereby?

[I’ll appreciate any advice you may have, especially those of you with success with at-risk learners.]

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