Pressuring poor parents to get the internet? Fair or foul?

As I assign more and more assignments and projects to my students online, I am more frequently feeling the pang of my bleeding liberal heart telling me that it’s not fair.  And I know that my heart is right.  It isn’t fair. I know that a few of my students may not have internet access or even a computer.  Granted, I teach in a rural town that is part bedroom community whose residents commute into the metropolis to work, and the other part comes from blue-collar or farm families.  Most families are doing decent, if not comfortable here.  However, poverty lurks.  Some of the families my school serve are homeless.  Some are living on county aid. Some use the food shelves.  Some parents have been unemployed for some time.  Some are just quite poor.  There is drug abuse and addiction and alcoholism and crime.  Some of our families struggle more that we sometimes understand.  I know this.

So when I began using almost exclusively at mid-year, I knew that some of my students would struggle with it.  I made sweeping statements that I would make accommodations for anyone who did not have home access, but very few have mentioned it.  I suspect they are just using the library before or after school, or using computers that belong to friends or relatives.  Overall, if there are kids with limited access, I am not hearing much about it.  Thing is, I know there are kids without access, and it bothers me.  Yes, I have heard of the digital divide.  I think it is alive where I live.

Here’s the thing.  Maybe my situation is a good one.   On one hand, I want no kid to go without or feel left out.  But maybe the students understand on some level that a computer and access to the internet is simply necessary for school in this age.  I think many educators would make that case.  Maybe the students have this discussion with parents, and maybe parents eventually prioritize internet access or buying a used computer ahead of something else.  I don’t know. Maybe the nudge to get connected would be a really good thing for the student and maybe even the whole family.  As many legislators and even the president have suggested, it seems a basic right to be connected to the internet.  I can see how some parents might decide that having the internet or investing in a computer are luxuries that would be silly for a family on a shoestring.  Maybe they would think of it more as a school supply if they saw how often it was required for school.

Maybe all this is a reach, but when a student does share with me that her family does not have the internet at home because her parents think it’s a waste of money, I wonder if they understand what they are doing without.  I love the 1:1 initiative, because not only does it offer the world to every student, but those kids bring that laptop or iPad home, and the parents can become more digitally literate as well.  I don’t know the solution to all this, but I think we may soon see a day where NOT having at least the most rudimentary internet access at home will be seen as true educational disparity.  Maybe we are already there.

I know there are a lot of maybes here, but maybe this is a conversation districts need to start having more often.


One thought on “Pressuring poor parents to get the internet? Fair or foul?

  1. I know EXACTLY how you feel. I teach in a very similar situation–rural area, and, for some, high speed internet just isn't available. Others I know have financial difficulty. And there are others who just don't see the value. I too have begun assigning more internet/computer based work, and I too have promised to accommodate those who can't make this work. Unlike you, I have heard from some students who say they just can't. I've also heard from some who "make do" with the library or relatives.A part of me thinks our school board should be dishing some of their older computers to families "in need," though I clearly recognize that doesn't help the monthly internet bill. As for the ones who just don't see the importance . . . I've been trying to educate my students, which is going quite well, and I've told them to refer their parents to me for convincing if they are unable to convince them. I make it clear that if the issue is financial then they (the student) need to back off. Too often parents know and already feel badly they can't provide. I grew up in a house just like that and (now) understand the hardship and guilt. My plan is to keep pushing it, and to keep providing alternatives where possible. I provide plenty of class time for work of this nature, and send home learning that can be done at home to make up the time. I extend time to students using the public library and relatives' computers. And I keep trying to get those who have the technology to push their limits with it. Keep up the fight, and keep up the understanding.

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