At first, you might wonder what any of this has to do with technology in schools, but bear with me, it should all make sense by the end.
This past week I was caught by something that Joshua Garcia, deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools said during his acceptance speech at the annual ASCD Conference that was held this past week in Chicago. Mr. Garcia spoke about trying to eradicate racism and elitism in his schools. He mentioned those two words, racism and elitism, together about five times during his emotional acceptance speech for winning the Outstanding Young Educator Award. I think we are all pretty clear on what racism is, but what about elitism and why is it so bad that he paired it with such word like racism?
Elitism is when people of the same social or ethic group, think that they are somehow better, or are more deserving than other people within their same group. They believe they are "The Elite" of their group. Entitlement can be a big part of elitism. Those who feel elite also feel somewhat entitled to getting more than the rest.
So what does elitism have to do with schools and technology?
As much as I love the idea of BYOD, students bringing and using their own technology at school, it does make me nervous in this regard.
Those who know me, know that I teach in a fairly affluent school. All of my kids go home to computers, videos games, and most importantly, Internet access. A lot of the students I teach have their own technology, usually in the form of a mobile device.
But before I go on, I know that some of you are reading my words and are now fighting your own demons. You might be one of the many educators who, because I teach at a school with 0% Free & Reduced, think that I cannot possible have "real" problems at my school. Like somehow a low F & R percentage makes all school and education problems go away, when we know in our guts that it does not (it does make some problems go away - no doubt about it). Some narrow-minded educators have even come up with the cute little term for the problems my students face by mockingly calling them "First-World Problems." Which means they think that my kids are crushed by huge problems that they think go something like this... "I just don't know which new snowboard to get for my trip to Aspen this weekend? My life sucks!" When the truth is that my students do face real problems every day, that in many ways mirror their counterparts in schools with high F & R rates.
I think we all can agree that after the basics of food, safety, shelter and clothing are taken care of, most of the other problems are to the students and the world they live in, as real as it gets. Our worlds might look different, but to young children problems are problems.
My students want to come to school and feel accepted by their peers. But my students used to fight elitism every day, being put down because do don't have the latests and greatest was a real problem. Now don't get me wrong, I work with great kids, but I have had some of these same great kids in my classroom in tears over things that their classmates have said to them about the technology they own.
BYOD could really magnify this problem is our schools. I used to think how great it would be to just have students bring their own technology to school instead of it being provided for them. But as we have dipped our toe into the BYOD pool at our school we have seen this elitism muddy the water. Students mocking other students for not owning the newest and best in mobile technology. And just as ugly as a problem are these same students walking the halls feeling that somehow they are entitled to have the best technology in their pockets when so many other go without.
But is it really the same? To mock someone for what they own or don't own, should carry the same weight as someone being mocked for the color of their skin? Let's stop and just take a quick look and see how the two compare.
Racism: someone who feels superior, makes someone else feel inferior for something that is outside of their control. For example, to tell someone he is not able to enter a restaurant because the the color of his skin (something they have no control of) by a person of a different color is racist.
Elitism: someone who feels superior, makes someone else feel inferior for something that is outside of their control. For example, when a person is told that because they own a piece of mobile technology that so old that only losers own that model (something they have no control of) by another person with newer technology is elitism.
Now of course, elitism is not as serious as racism, but it is strange how similar they are. And I am here to tell you that words spoken with elitism sting to child similar to words of racism.
So before we jump into the deep end of the BYOD pool, I think we need to take a good hard look at elitism in our schools and ask ourselves if this is something we can take on and conquer? So talk to your students and see if this is happening in your school. Talk to your fellow educators and see if something can be done about if it is.
In my school we are working as a team, united in keeping this out of our school. We are relentless, and we work with our students to help eliminate elitism from our school. And I am happy to say that the progress this past year has been amazing. Like racism, once identified, elitism could be taken head-on. Many students didn't even know they were contributing to the problem. They were just having a little fun. They didn't know that they were hurting their fellow students with their sharp words.
BYOD might be a great thing to save our schools, but let's be careful so as to not create a bigger problem than the one we just fixed.