By Kirk Clay
“To share is precious, pure, and fair. Don’t play with something you should cherish for life. Don’t you wanna care, ain’t it lonely out there?” — Marvin Gaye
Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery would say, “we in the movement promised never to leave anyone behind, and everyone is important to the movement, so just leave no one behind, then we’ll be alright.” The truth is that too many schools in low-income communities and communities of color are left behind. They do not have access to technology, technical support, and high-speed internet services needed to close the digital divide.
Many school technical support staff are among the group of workers negatively impacted by the Covid-19 – few of whom have meaningful work now. If their schools close, some will be tasked with new duties, such as copying “distance learning” packets for families to pick up weekly. Copying is not an appropriate use of their skills, not to mention they will not be focusing their talent on closing the digital divide. Moreover, this may contribute to the digital divide, especially when many school systems across the country are already considering closing for the rest of the school year and already have insufficient technological capabilities.
When students of color gain access to quality technology, it helps them thrive in education by allowing them to connect, keep up, and learn from their teachers as well as their peers. But most students in need of technology have trouble obtaining, gaining access to it, and acquiring appropriate materials. A digital divide is a gap between students who have access to the Internet and devices at school and home, and those who do not.
Additionally, with many school buildings closed due to Covid-19, there is a “digital use” divide as well — the gap between students taught to use technology in an appropriate, active, and creative way to support their learning and those who are not. Note that some students mainly use technology for passive content consumption. These students may be found on their bed with headphones plugged in “multitasking” and listening to music while completing their assignments. The truth is — despite what students may think, research tells us that there is no such thing as successfully multitasking while studying. On the contrary, the mind switches back and forth between tasks, and that decreases learning. So listening to music may help with anxiety but do so while performing memory recall tasks weakens scores.
Given that many students of color attend schools that do not yet have access to or are not using technology in ways that can improve learning for all, we must elect policymakers that will support our interests to fix this problem. What’s more, many homes in rural communities do not have the necessary technology or access to high-speed internet service either, and there are enough voters in those areas to change this dynamic.
This political landscape resembles that of November 3, 1998, in Georgia, where the hyper-partisan nature of politicians motivated communities of color to demonstrate their concerns through the power of the vote. In 1998 Voters of Color were 30% of the vote share. Pro-education candidates won the governorship, retained control of both houses of the legislature, and candidates of color made significant gains.
- Although 2010 census data showed that Atlanta only grew 0.8% to 420,003, neighboring Athens-Clark County grew by 15% to 116,714. That significant growth helped to give Georgia a new congressional seat plus an extra Electoral College vote.
- People of color in Georgia make up close to 35% of the citizen voting-age population, and most of those registered and voted in 2008.
- POC made up 34% of the vote share in the 2008 general election. This number increased to 35% in 2010.
- The potential impact would be significant in 2020 if every eligible person of color voted. Especially in cities like Atlanta and Athens-Clark County, where there are over 230,000 “Key” Voters of Color combined.
Here’s what change looks like
1. Address the Gap in Technology and Internet Access for students of color by expanding broadband access across the country, with particular investments in rural and low-income communities, to ensure a national standard of internet access, quality, and affordability.
2. Invest in closing the digital use divide for students of color by providing targeted resources to communities of need that provide technical support, materials, and training for students of color to use technology in an appropriate, active, and creative way to support their learning.
Will this be as easy as it sounds? Not at all, just as it took time for me to adjust to the civil rights principles during the “Mississippi Voter Whistle Stop Tour” – we can’t expect our children to adjust to distance learning overnight. Students of color have to be encouraged to be independent learners, and we must remain patient as they find their way through the system. Just as Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery was patient with me on that day, the entire educational community must remain patient, vigilant, and put forth an effort to enact policies that will close the digital divide.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.