One Step Forward and Many Back: Fighting for Digital Tools

I am apologizing upfront for my digression. I am starting with a digression and hopefully it will make sense to you. It does to me. Last week I had a lovely brunch with a friend of mine. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought dessert menus. The man I was with ordered a lavish dessert.

I made it clear that I did not want dessert.  The waiter listened, but then said, “I’ll bring an extra fork.” Many people might have just said, “OK”, but his comment got me thinking. Why did he offer to bring a fork when I made it clear that I did not want dessert? Was he just being polite? Or was there some hidden cultural gender bias pushing that statement? Was it somehow ingrained that men freely order dessert and women do not because of socio-cultural pressures on women’s appearance? Was his statement data-based? Did he have experiential quantitative data that proved that women do not order on their own, but pick at other people’s desserts? Did he have data that showed a relationship between the original “No, I do not want any,” then tastes, then subsequent orders that contribute to revenue? Did hegemony exist in restaurants? And then this led me to think about hegemony in classrooms. How much does stereotypical, hegemonic behavior impact teachers’ literacy decisions? How are teachers affecting the differences between male and female literacy behaviors and performance? And this was going to be the focus of my current blog–until today.

School is back. And after the convocation, the first staff meeting began. There were the usual hellos, inquiries about summer, new staff introductions, and then the introductions to the new school year’s happenings and policies. And we were told that the school had decided to institute a no cell phone, no tolerance policy. Cell phones were no longer allowed in school. They had to be off and stored in locked lockers. Under no circumstances were they allowed out. Never, no way, no how, no exceptions. Students caught with cell phones will have their cell phones confiscated and immediate detentions given. Wait, What? The rest was a blur of information I could hear, but not internalize. Too much inappropriate use. Kids aren’t mature enough. Kids do not understand acceptable use. Too much abuse. Too much freedom. Too much police work for the teachers. I got dizzy. I got a headache. I got a stomachache. I got nauseated.

Last year, my sixth-graders had cell phones-smart ones, and they used them. They read on them. They took notes on them. They tweeted to authors on them. They accessed the web and researched on them. They annotated on them. They collaborated on them. They entered answers to quizzes and saw immediate feedback with them. And this is bad? Were there occassional misuses? Sure, but I can count them on my hand because there were also solid and clear expectations created and reinforced. They signed contracts. We pledged allegiance to acceptable use. More than 90 percent of my students used their phones everyday.

When the new policy was introduced, many teachers, quite a few, more than I want to admit, applauded. I was not one of them. At a recent Digital Literacy Seminar at Fordham University, I commented that one of the problems facing the implementation of digital tools in the classroom was fear. “You have nothing to fear, but fear itself” was immortalized by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, and it is still true. Teachers are afraid for a plethora of reasons to integrate these digital literacies. If we are going to bring this type of education to the forefront, we have to handle the fear, but we can’t if we succumb to it. Too much police work? Nonsense. We teach children to wash their hands before handling food. We teach children to say please and thank you. We have to teach children how to responsibly use technology. Technology is a culture that is not going away. Why are we running from it?

Look at the literature. There are hundreds and hundreds of book written by teachers and researchers about the use of techology. I pick three. Murthy’s (2013) Twitter, Digital Media and Society Series, Gardner and Davis (2013), The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World, and Kolb (2008-note the date) Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education. New literacies is an old term already and should be second nature by now. How can any school turn a blind eye to this? So I realize, again, that teachers who are pushing the digital literacy agenda have a great deal of work to do. And it is not limited to learning the tools. We are changing the culture of education and while we have made many inroads, we sure do have a long way to go. I have to go to battle.