© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
A lot of us may not witness and appreciate it on a daily basis, but there is a significant techno-cultural divide in this country. I’m sure that you have heard of, or read about, this before; however, it is a far more troubling thing to witness in operation.
Some months ago, I was an instructor at a local community college, teaching math and English to adult students seeking their GEDs. Many of the students had fourth grade skill levels upon entry into the various GED programs available. On any given day, there were thousands of students coming through the doors.
At some point during my time there, the administration decided to add beginner’s computer courses, several of which I taught. The Tuesday and Thursday, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm class, had reasonable attendance when the class was first offered. The initial Friday evening, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm class had even better attendance. (I should note that this class consisted entirely of immigrants, from Egypt, Columbia, Mexico, Iran, Cambodia, and Togo, and not one, single, native-born American, including blacks and whites.
In each instance, there were open seats and underutilized computers. Consequently, I mounted a personal quest to inform other potential students, and their instructors, of the availability of all classes being taught throughout the week at all times of day, including Saturday morning.
As the new quarter approached, I generated a written schedule of all classes, made copies, and personally traveled to all of the GED classes being held during the morning and early afternoon, and during the evening. I explained to the students the importance of computer skills, and at one point mentioned that one could find a job using a computer.
Out of the back of the room came a startled utterance, “Mr. Logistician, you mean I could find a job using the computer?” Once I began to explore the various vehicles for doing so, many of the students requested copies of the course schedule. In thinking further about the young lady’s excitement, I realized that certain ones of us are not aware of vehicles or mechanisms, about which others of us know, and which we take for granted as having the capability of advancing our personal interests.
Come the new quarter, my supervisor contacted me and indicated that too few new students had signed up for the mid-week class, and that it would be canceled if I could not round up additional students. Despite my best efforts, the class was cancelled, although I did manage to convince some new students to attend classes taught by other instructors, during other time slots.
The Friday evening class went forward, but with only 5 or so students. Once again, all of them were immigrants.
Shifting to a whole different mindset, during the past 3 days, I participated in a blogging and social media technology conference in the southeast. It reminded me of the spirit, energy, and vision that I witnessed in the tech community when I practiced intellectual property law, and met all sorts of inventors and scientists.
During the first day, Microsoft representatives touted their latest web design software, capable of doing amazing things. Over the course of the next two days, I met all sorts of internet entrepreneurs, including Robert Scoble (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Scoble), converting virtually nothing into something significant, while using minimal physical tools and a minimal monetary investment – primarily relying on their wits and ingenuity.
I watched some relatively young folks, primarily in their mid-20s to mid-30s, explain the internet businesses which they had created, and I marveled at their skills. During the last day, what initially began as a discussion about whether bloggers should adhere to some undetermined standard or code of conduct, transitioned into a discussion of whether bloggers had an ethical or societal responsibility to ensure that some of our readers were not “adversely affected” by such things as improper grammar and biased analyses in our articles.
And then someone summed it up quite well. The folks in the room all had the ability to speak to the educated, informed technical community, as well as to my former students. My former students, and others of similar educational status, could only speak one language, and perhaps also could not read, which further frustrated their ability to get ahead.
A couple of the young presenters were just crackerjack sharp and articulate as all get up. One indicated that he had been home-schooled. That got me to thinking about the role of parents. Interestingly, just an hour or two ago, I received an e-mail from a childhood friend of mine, thanking me for directing her, and her two children, to a salon type forum, where issues are discussed in a civil context by some very interesting new thinkers. What struck me was the fact that my friend’s family conducted their discussions of issues as a group, within their family.
There is such a wide, and I mean w-i-d-e, difference between the adult students (many of whom are in their late teens and twenties) and the folks with whom I spent my last few days at ConvergeSouth (http://2008.convergesouth.com).
Most of us do not walk the tight rope, or the zig-zagging road, between both sides of the cultural canyon on a daily basis. We generally chose only one world view.
Should we be concerned and alarmed about relatively minor differences in performance? Perhaps not.
Should we be concerned about the expanse of this particular educational chasm? Most definitely; and we all should. It affects us all. We all should figure out a way to do our part to narrow it.
No statistics or studies are necessary to justify adopting a different attitude about this divide. Just look around you.
Somebody, DO SOMETHING!
© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
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