Please Stop Saying Technology is the New Civil Rights Movement

People line up to speak, mostly women of color.  A Latina mother with a little girl clinging to her leg tells the crowd she volunteers at her kids’ school thirty hours a week and asks other parents to pitch in because help is desperately needed.  An African-American custodian asks for the funds to restore jobs so she can keep her school clean.

A thin white woman in cargo pants comes to the microphone, voice trembling with anger.  “You said this was a meeting to hear our input on the budget.  And then you put up a slide that showed that most of the money has already been allocated.  This year before you even asked us you’re adding twenty million dollars to put more police at schools.  Who decided that what our children needed was more police?”

The CFO of the LAUSD, Megan Reilly, thanks her politely for her feedback.  At the beginning of the evening, she’s given us a quiz, which we take via little clickers they’ve distributed to everyone.  How does the LAUSD rank nationally in terms of budget?  Upper 5?  Upper 10?  Lower 5?  Almost everyone in the crowd knows the answer.  We’re at the bottom.  In fact, California spends less per student than any state other than Alabama.  In the auditorium at John Burroughs high school, a small crowd of maybe 70 people has gathered for a town hall, mostly Latina and African-American women, many of them with children at their sides, to give the LAUSD input on how to spend the additional Prop 30 money, though as the woman in cargo pants points out, much of that money has apparently already been allocated.

A young mother with an Eastern European accent says that the parents at her school have personally fundraised to hire new teachers.  With their own money, they paid for teacher training.  This year, all of those teachers were removed from their school.  Can’t they just keep their staff?  They don’t even care that they’re paying their own personal money above taxes.  Can’t they just keep their teachers?

A middle-aged Latino man asks for funding to be restored to Adult Education.  Since Saturday classes are at risk of being cancelled, because he has a job during the week he’ll have no access to education if Saturday classes are cut.  Sometimes he shows up and school is closed.  The school is so broke they don’t even have money for paper towels in the bathrooms.

On and on and on.  I’d thought there would be crazies, but there’s only one: a thin white guy who thinks iPads are going to give kids cancer. What’s most upsetting about this evening is that except for him, the people lining up for their one minute at the microphone are just stone-cold sane citizens pleading to be heard.  It’s the LAUSD officials, with their brisk neat slides and veneer of professionalism as they present the disaster that is our underfunded school system, who seem crazy by pretending that if you put up a slide, it’s reasonable that our schools are cramming 45 or more children into classrooms in our most underserved communities while having cut almost every resource possible: librarians, counselors, custodians, assistant principals.  My husband recently visited an elementary school in South Central where a teacher told him her classes were so overcrowded she did not even have enough chairs.  She also asked him if he knew anyone who could donate shoes, because so many of her students needed them.

A middle-aged white man who’s a sub tells the crowd that he works in all grades.  In kindergarten through third grade classes, it’s fine; the classes are capped at 24 and he can have individual conversations with all the kids.  But when he goes to middle schools, he’s in enormous classes and there’s no possibility of any conversation, it’s just crowd control.  How can we possibly say that we’re educating these kids?

A slender African American woman with two children at her side takes the microphone.  She’s a teacher and she wants to know what in the world the LAUSD is thinking when they spend a billion dollars on iPads.  What our children need is the opportunity to talk to a teacher so they can develop their high-level thinking skills, something that requires contact with a living human being.  Who could possibly think we should be training our children from the time they’re five to have their faces next to a screen?  She asks the LAUSD to please stop saying that technology is the new civil rights movement.  It is an offense to the real civil rights movement, to the people who died in the fight for equality, a fight that is not over.

The audience cheers.

Years ago, outside my local grocery store, someone had inexplicably spray-painted: It felt sad.  It felt sad.  I think of that now because I am unspeakably sad.  And also angry.  Because the LAUSD is a train wreck.  Whether at this point charters are partly to blame or whether they’re a logical response to a disastrous situation…I don’t know.  I debate it in my mind endlessly.

All I can think is that, charters or not, we, the citizens of California, choose to spend less on education than any state besides Alabama. We put our fingers in our ears, close our eyes and hum and pretend to believe we that children in our city can get a real education in conditions so overcrowded that—forget librarians and counselors–classrooms sometimes don’t even have enough chairs.  And this situation falls hardest on children of color in low-income communities without the resources to raise additional money for luxuries like teachers.  Or chairs.

They’ll have plenty of police, though.  I guess we can feel good about that.


8 thoughts on “Please Stop Saying Technology is the New Civil Rights Movement”

  1. Just the fact that the debacle of the iPads was put into place, seemingly without a plan, shows just how much of a train wreck the system is indeed. I wonder who on the board owns a lot of stock in Apple.

  2. Indeed our public school system is just that, a system, and archaic one at that. We must get our cart before our horse in my mind. Money alone is not going to fix things. Schools will end up doing things like, well, buying more iPads, or hiring police officers. These are patches for an old plan, that quite frankly is not working.

    Instead of repairs we need an overhaul, a total remake of our educational ideology. I’d start with what we already know, and we do know a lot. We know that children learn at different rates and in many different ways. (So maybe we can rethink age based grouping. And every child on the same page keeps only a handful academically appropriate.) We know that children learn material they are interesting in much faster and retain it longer. We know that the best window for second language learning before age ten. We know so much information about how and why children learn, yet we have not yet designed a system where much of this has been put into practice.

    In France public education is broadcast on television for those that are at home, usually because of a rail strike. Children take public transportation alongside the rest of their community. (This is not as feasible here, especially in our remote communities, but it could be a long term goal for the U.S.) Getting our children into the communities is a wonderful way to connect them to the real world. When we dispense with the short attentions span encouraging forty minute time slots, time frees to learn things in depth. Why was it again that we separated learning into subjects? We have been doing it so long we have forgotten why.

    When we open our minds to how children really learn and what it is we actually want to accomplish in a public education, we free ourselves to rethink the whole process. If we started with what we wanted to end up with we might get closer to our goal. If we want literate citizens who understand themselves and what they are best at, and an understanding our world and how they can become a contributing member of the greater community, we can work backwards toward that goal.

    I’d love to see a discussion on what we each think would be a goal for today’s educated young adults. What do you think our eighteen year olds ought to know to be prepared for launching their lives. I know I have strayed way off topic here, but it pains me to see us focus on the money issue when money alone is not doing to fix our antiquated system. If Sanjay Gupta can get children in rural India to teach themselves almost anything with an old computer in a wall then we can certainly rethink the way we teach here in America.

  3. The iPad deployment is not the Holy Grail! For the amount of press that went into the iPad distribution, why couldn’t LAUSD come up with a accountability plan?? Of course iPads were going to go missing from the get-go. The charter school that I work at, now in its third year of the BLAST model, and many many laptops were hacked, downloaded, mistreated, vandalized, and stolen for which we paid a dear price.

  4. “They’ll have plenty of police, though. I guess we can feel good about that.”
    This reminds me of PA, where there’s a nice brand new prison ($400 million see below video at around 6:00) being built outside of Philadelphia while the schools are being closed down at the same time, and programs like art and sports are cut.

  5. Just found this article through a link from somewhere else. I’m the “white woman” who spoke about the police funding increase that nobody wants. It would be good if people could show up at next BOE CCTP meeting this Tuesday @ 8:30 am – they will be talking about the iPads. The BOE needs to hear from people/parents about what schools really need – not just hear from the corporate shills. Here’s the new power point from LAUSD on the state of Phase I. I see quite a few misstatements in there. They intend to push forward on this using bond money for schools.
    Updated Common Core Powerpoint Presentation

    1. Kim, thank you for commenting. I can’t be at that meeting because of a conflicting commitment but will be very curious to hear about it from anyone who can attend. Out of curiosity, what in your opinion are the misstatements in there?

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