Critical reflection on opportunity and digital literacy

A colleague just shared this image with me; though I’m not sure of the source, it is thought provoking.

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Last week I wrote about an article written by Rantala & Suoranta (appearing in Lankshear & Knobel, 2008), which suggested that moves to build digital literacy in the EU have a neoliberal bias.  I think the same is true in the US, too.  Essentially, most of the literature I’ve read defines neoliberalism as the economization/marketization of social issues. Harvey (2007) defines it as:

“theory of political economic practices proposing that human well-being can best be advanced by the maximization of entrepreneurial freedoms within an institutional framework characterized by private property rights, individual liberty, unencumbered markets, and free trade” (p. 22).

In such an environment, the premise for education is workforce development and the building of a healthy economy, and government is supposed to get out of the way of entrepreneurs so that can happen.   Davies & Bansel (2007) write of a shift in responsibilities and functions of government implicit in neoliberalism, where it becomes the “duty of the citizen: the newly responsibilized individuals fulfill their obligation to the nation/state by pursuing economic well- being for themselves and their family, for their employer, company, business or corporation (p. 252).

I worry that with such a motivation for technology in education Scenario 2 is more likely than Scenario 1.  We have a well documented Matthew Effect in American education. Coined by Kerckhoff & Glennie (1999), Matthew Effect describes the reality that “those with an advantage at one stage very often obtain a further advantage at the next stage, and those who are disadvantaged at one stage very often become further disadvantaged at the next stage (p. 61).  Knowing this, it’s hard for me to imagine a situation where economic development is sufficient to push for equity.  So, I think we have a responsibility to be advocates for our students, push back against reform movements that fail to acknowledge the difficulty of providing equitable education in communities segregated by poverty, and be sure that we maintain a critical stance on the potential benefits of technology in the classroom.

Davies, B., & Bansel, P. (2007). Neoliberalism and education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 20(3), 247–259. doi:10.1080/14767720802506821

Kerckhoff, A. C., & Glennie, E. (1999). The Matthew effect in American education. In Research in Sociology of Education and Socialization (Vol. 12, pp. 35–66). JAI Press Inc.

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2008). Digital literacies: Concepts, origins, and practices. (M. Lankshear, C., & Knobel, Ed.). New York: Peter Lang.

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