Sunday, September 6, 2009

World Class Cyber Meeting for Schools? Not This Year!

I'm still watching you, Mr. President, and I'm still holding you accountable for the beautiful words you spoke at the Democratic National Convention on August 28, 2008. Just days short of one year ago, you grabbed my attention and you inspired this educator. I have not forgotten. You said:
"Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy.
I've quoted this quote many times since your election to the office of the Presidency. I admire and ascribe to the message inherent in words like "world-class education." It conjures images of students with access to "America's digital infrastructure" -- "the backbone, the foundation for getting the job done." My image of the world-class school is rooted in your own words shared on May 29, 2009 in remarks on Securing our Nation's Cyber Infrastructure. You speak of cyberspace as "a world Americans depend on every single day." You call attention to "our hardware and our software, our desktops and laptops and cell phones and Blackberries that have become woven into every aspect of our lives." Yes, I am convinced that you share a vision for schools where students learn as they live-- "with broadband networks and wireless signals-- that make us more interconnected than at any time in human history."

Because I quote you often, I am compelled to watch your actions - anxiously awaiting signs that the time for meeting the world-class moral obligation for creating 21st Century schools has come. I look for evidence that political actions taken will actually impact the learning of all students in my city, state and nation. I look for actions that lead to educational equity - particularly for those young people who must depend on our schools to bridge their cyber-steps into the 21st century. Your administration's rhetoric continues to resonate loudly-- but it often seems that the action initiatives may not be not in sync with your eloquent words of 8/28/08. Too often, the actions at the "top" seem disconnected from the reality at the "bottom." I find it increasingly difficult to "quote your quotes" to educators that live the reality in today's schools and see no changes in the conditions that every child faces each school day.

Let me explain precisely how an educator can become confused at the grass roots level. I'll use your proposed "back-to-school" address to our nation's students at noon on Tuesday, September 8, 2009 to make a case in point.

First, I must be clear that I've carefully read the script for your Back to School Event. I've also reviewed the materials (K-6) (7-12) your office has posted for use in our nation's classrooms. I have no objection whatsoever to your message or the materials you recommend. I commend your desire to inspire and engage our students in discussions about the importance of education in the 21st Century. I am actually intrigued with the idea of students working in tandem with an American President on topics related to personal responsibility and academic goal setting. I see the logic, the merit, and the purpose in this activity and I view it, in theory, as positive and productive.

What perplexes and confounds educators, however, is that this plan and the experience you propose to share with students conflicts with the actions your administration has taken to equip our nation's schools with the "digital foundation for getting the job done." The idealism of the proposed "moment" contradicts our ever-present reality. On the one hand, you invite all of America's students to watch you deliver your message via a live broadcast on the White House Web site at 12:00 p.m., ET. You actually encourage educators to collectively use this moment in cyberspace to help students get focused and inspired to begin the new academic year.

On the other hand, Mr. President, did you listen at all when I whispered these important words to you in my 11/8/08 blog Yes, We Can, Mr. President? I spoke quietly hoping you would listen closely:

"If you want your children and my child, and all American children to have a world class education, you must connect them to the world."
Do you realize that all of our schools cannot possibly "meet with you"for a live broadcast at noon on Tuesday? If all of our schools attempted to connect to your live broadcast at one point in time using our limited infrastructures, minimal bandwidth, low-speed connectivity, and limited technical support, the infrastructure would surely cough, spin and likely collapse. Uniting our schools via the web for "this moment" to help students "get focused" and to "inspire them to begin the new academic year" would create technical chaos! In fact, it would underpin and reinforce what educators and their students already know: Our schools are not technically equipped to serve students in the 21st Century. "This moment" that you strive to create would epitomize the frustrations of this nation's educators, serving as an exemplar for the loss of millions of "teachable moments" we have already sacrificed to technical failure. Surely, Mr. President, you cannot be so far removed that you are not aware of the fatal flaw in your plan for "this moment."

Frankly, this educator grows increasingly frustrated as trillions of dollars are appropriated for projects that are far less crucial than reforming the archaic education system that is failing our children. Yet, it seems that as funds are quickly appropriated for various industries and innovations, reform for education is met by "inspiring" our nation's children to set goals that cannot be accomplished in our 19th and 20th century schoolhouses. Perhaps, "this moment" will serve to inspire you to make haste in appropriating funds that ensure that next year's "back-to-school" broadcast is accessible to
every child that needs a world-class education. Only then can our educators convince 21st century learners to engage in and set goals for 21st Century success in our nation's schools.

In the meantime, I encourage you in your efforts to inspire our students. I ask you not to assume that the nation's educators rejected your back- to-school message because we do not login in mass to your live broadcast during the back-to-school week. I earnestly believe most educators would gladly meet you in cyberspace-- if we had confidence that we could do so-- but, frankly, Mr. President, you need to know this: Our schools are not equitably and adequately equipped for cyber meetings in real-time. We know our network limitations and, I'm sorry to say that where connectivity is concerned, "No, we can't."


  1. Hi, Beth,
    As a far-off observer of American education, I feel relieved that we are not alone with our problems in Germany. Still, over-here, there is a certain averseness to full Internet use. Phrases like "Don´t put my name/picture on the Internet" or "I am not going to discuss the pros and cons of aviation on the Internet" show the reluctance to use this great means of communication. While in America, and few in Germany, people are working on creating a "digital footprint", most Germans, parents and students, feel afraid to accept the social dimension the use of the Internet is providing.

    Still, I hope that things will change slowly, but surely.

    All the best, Ralph

  2. Hi, Ralph! I'm so glad to hear from you! Hope all is well with you!

    You make me realize that in so many ways, the people of the world have much in common. There are many legitimate reasons to exercise caution when using the web - and our citizens are appropriately skeptical too.

    One of the primary roles education must play is educating our public and preparing our students for responsible use of the web - especially with respect to cyber security. I think you've made a key point, Ralph, and I am so glad you brought it forward.


  3. Beth,
    Thank you for saying what many educators around
    the country are thinking. We want to support the presidency. We are waiting with baited breathe to see if there will be actions accompanying his inspiring words. Our children need all of us to work together to provide them with an education that will prepare them for their future. We are looking to our leaders to help us accomplish this goal. What a refreshing educational change learning in the 21st century can be if we put aside all this political jibber jabber and focus on our students.

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