Recently I participated in a Webinar titled “Opportunities and Challenges for Web 2.0 in Schools” given by Tech & Learning Magazine. One of the hosts was Alan November. He brought up a very intriguing myth about educational technology that really made me think. The myth is that educational technology broadens the perspectives of students by giving them greater access to a wide range of thoughts, ideas, and opinions online. Until recently, I believed in this myth. But after hearing Alan’s explanation, I realized I could be wrong. Essentially, he said that the myriad of choices on the internet make it possible for people to pigeonhole themselves into narrower and narrower points of view. While choices abound, students are selecting sources (blogs, social networks, list services, & news sites) that match their current outlook on the world. Rarely are they experiencing different points of view and incongruent perspectives. In the old days of three major news networks and town news papers, people were forced to see and hear about information that was foreign to their way of thinking and world view. Now, if you are so inclined, you can easily ignore most information other than the views you want to hear. As Alan November put it, some people are fans of the Huffington Post and some are fans of Fox News, rarely do they experience each others ideas.

Coincidentally, the next day I read about a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center called “Sharp Growth in Suburban Minority Enrollment Yields Modest Gains in School Diversity” (http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=105). It said while African Americans and Asians are becoming slightly less segregated, Latino students were becoming more segregated in U.S. suburban schools. One of the possible causes cited was the proliferation of schools of choice that offer customized programs, themes, and curricula around Latino culture and language. Many Latino families are self-selecting these unique schools for their children. Of course, this tends to concentrate and segregate them. Now I have always been a proponent of school choice. I believe that it results in more innovation, customer satisfaction, and accountability. However, choice, in educational technology or school enrollment, seems to have the unintended consequence of segregating some groups of students.

Diversity in our schools seems to be suffering from both self-selected incidents of segregation, and segregation of thought as students constrict their online experiences to just those ideas and opinions that affirm their current beliefs. So what can we do about it? One answer is simply good teaching. One of the best classroom strategies for opening student minds to the world is Identifying Similarities and Differences. Using this strategy, teachers can help students understand other points of view and encourage classroom dialogue and debate about ideas, cultures, and perspectives that cause students to think and revise their developing views.

History tells us that segregating ourselves is not good for society. Yet school and online choice have strong merits. How can we enjoy the benefits of choice without the pitfalls of segregation?

Written by Matt Kuhn.

4 Comments

  • Laura Varlas says:

    Re: choice & online media–I have to disagree with November. I read a wide range of news sources, daily, in my RSS feed reader. Yeah, if I only set these to capture stuff from Fox I’d have a pretty narrow outlook–but they’re all over the map, and let me quickly scan through way more content than I could by picking up the paper. I feel constantly challenged to consider multiple p.o.v.s. But then again, I lucked out and had parents & teachers who taught me how to think critically.

  • Matt Kuhn says:

    Hi Laura, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “I lucked out and had parents & teachers who taught me how to think critically.” Do the majority of students also have parents and teachers that encourage exposure to multiple points of view and to think critically? While you are savvy enough to have an RSS feed that includes many different perspectives, do students do the same?

  • Matt: “Do the majority of students also have parents and teachers that encourage exposure to multiple points of view and to think critically?”
    No–and I believe Alan November is correct. In addition to the ability to filter news to fit narrow perspectives, heavy criticism and breaking apart of monolithic public school systems to allow greater parental choice and boutique schooling models are driving this change. None of these are negative trends, but taken together, they’re threatening the old ideal that never really was: the melting pot.
    The only possible counterweight I can envision is creating schools where diverse viewpoints are embraced. For every “Fox is truth” parent, there are parents who want their kids to learn to hold two conflicting ideas in their mind.

  • Janice says:

    Hi, I tend to agree with Alan, having access to a wide range of information most often people tend to focus on existing interest. However, I believe that you’re only as good as those you rub elbows with. Diversity is good.

Leave a Reply