I am always amazed at the things I take for granted in life. We have taught our children to do things that most adults still cannot do: type, create presentations, do research, navigate the internet, ask questions then answer for themselves and each other.
I have 2 daughters who smoothly run through the gamut of new advances in learning environments, but I teach in spaces where kids are failing solely because no one has taught students these important skills. I have to walk kids one at a time one step at a time on how to cut and paste information into a Word document. Yet their teachers are expecting kids to come to them being able to already do stuff jist because they have cell phones and Play Stations.
But how can they? Rarely do these extended skill sets exist in working class homes. Spencer and I both worked corporate where being up on technology was required; that isn’t the case if you work in labor and service industry jobs. The exposure rate is different if you graduated from a 4 year university or just high school. The opportunity to manipulate technology is a safe, stress free space does not come often.
The real disadvantage in being a person of color never comes from just the lack of opportunities, it comes from a lack of access and thus skillsets needed when opportunity comes. Add to that teachers who are uncomfortable with, afraid of, or just plain not interested in learning new things themselves, and you have a lot of missed access and opportunity.
Take for instance the schools for which I have worked. 4 of the 5 had access to incredibly advanced technology–Smartboards and Prometheans, iPads and Nooks, document cameras and digital cameras, sound equipment, the works–and less than 50% of adults at every school could work any of that technology. Even now, we have the awesomeness that is virtual learning, and the teachers have no idea how to navigate it, let alone help a student navigate through it. The teachers themselves are not proficient in basic Microsoft Office applications, so students have very little opportunity to learn how to do it. Yet, these are the teachers who teach in urban school environments: afraid to look bad, or too overwhelmed to attempt to learn and embrace the things that could revolutionize their classrooms.
I had a real eye opening experience today as I walked 7th graders through the ins and outs of building a 4-slide powerpoint presentation. We assume so much about these urban students of color without taking into account the holes that exist in their education. How can they become 21st century ready when we still teach them like we are living in the 19th century? Exchanging chalkboards for whiteboards (though absolutely needed) is not enough. Having them write out definitions on sheets of paper and not typing full length papers or solving math problems without exposing them to equation editors and graphing calculators is just not enough. If we want them to be successful in the work force, they need to have more than just ways to answer questions. They need different mediums in which to work–but they cannot do that when the teacher learning curve is so steep.
As much as literacy and numeracy are important, so are the ways in which students much demonstrate those proficiencies. The obstacle, however, lies in the expectations that we have of students’ ability as well as the denial that we as adults struggle in our own expertise in these areas. We rarely capitulate when it comes to the demands of 21st century learning, choosing to stolidly hide or inadequacies behind student behavior and academic levels. Who has time to teach word processing when little Travon can barely read or multiply? When really, the question is why can’t I enhance my learning enivronment for Travon by learning and incorporating this advanced learning technique? Why can’t I do both?
The fixed versus growth mindset theory has holes like every other theory but one thing reminds true: if we do not change our approach from “it is what it is” to “progress no matter what the cost”, we will continue to lose the very kids we get up every morning to educate.