Today we are simultaneously tearing our hair out and jumping with joy over a piece in the New York Times about what is being called the new digital divide. This happens when increased access to technology fails to help low-income young people bridge the achievement gap that exists between socioeconomic classes, because they lack the skills and training needed to have a healthy relationship with media (as in, they’re not addicted to it) and use it productively (as in, do more than play games and check Facebook).
We’re pleased that this issue is getting the kind of high-profile attention that comes from being covered in the Times, but also frustrated that it’s taken so long to be written about in explicit, unyielding and plain terms. A variety of programs dedicated to providing access to broadband and technology have been in operation for years, and while they are vital, they are not magic bullets for opportunity, equality or education. The LAMP’s Executive Director D.C. Vito spoke about this as recently as last month, in testimony to the New York City Council about efforts to increase broadband access; as he said, “Meaningful use of increased broadband access depends on digital literacy training.” The New York Times touched on it back in 2010, when it published an article about a study which indicated that bringing computers into low-income homes does not necessarily result in improved test scores for reading and math. While filling schools and homes with computers might look like progress, it’s not. You may as well give a car to an unlicensed driver, and expect that he can travel safely on a highway.
The good news is that New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) recently took what we expect to be meaningful steps in the right direction to prepare young people of all backgrounds to thrive in an increasingly media- and technology-saturated 21st century America. On May 8, city DOE officials sent a memorandum to all principals in NYC public schools instructing them to increase their emphasis on teaching Common Core standards, which reflect the growing need for all students nationwide to learn critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, how to collaborate with others and many more basics which are needed in a modern culture. For example, instead of reading a newspaper article and then being asked to summarize it in class, a teacher using Common Core standards might ask the student to discuss what was left out, where there was bias and where there were facts, or why the story is news in the first place. Lessons like these teach young people to proactively engage with the media around them, and not passively consume it, and are critical for young people who use media and technology in most of their waking hours. Also key to the DOE mandate is that as of next year, state English and math exams taken by nearly all public school students will include Common Core material, forming the beginning of a rubric for measuring the success of implementing the updated curricula.
LAMP programs align with over sixty of the Common Core standards. Participants in our news literacy workshops go through the same exercise previously mentioned, where they break down a news item rather than provide a synopsis. The LAMP takes this further by having students make their own newspapers and news broadcasts, so participants learn first-hand how news stories are selected and communicated–in this way, they learn how technology can be used productively, and they learn how to collaborate with a team, along with a host of other valuable skills. And yes, we do also teach young people and parents how to set boundaries and rules for screen time and appropriate content, and how to resolve conflicts related to online activity.
Now is the right time to bring LAMP programs into your school or community. Workshops run during school, after school and on weekends, and we customize programs to meet the needs of all age groups and skill levels. As a nonprofit, we keep our fees as low as possible so that no student pays a tuition fee to participate in our programs. To learn more about what The LAMP can do for you, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.