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Making the case for literacy: Are tech experts disqualified?

3 min read


During a track race, if a runner leaves the block before the sound of the gun, the runner is disqualified from the race and asked to leave the track. We need a similar sanction in education, especially as it relates to technology.

Too many in the education profession are advocating for more integration of technology across the curriculum without linking it to the underachievement and the literacy crisis in this country. All over the blogosphere, there are individuals discussing media, technology and other computer-related skills, while overlooking the fact that we have millions of American youth and adults who do not possess basic reading, writing and math skills. How can we seriously discuss and advocate for an increase in technology in education without first acknowledging that we have a growing population of citizens who are not even able to read a Google page for information or able to decipher media propaganda from legitimate news sources?

The problem currently in many online communities is that educational experts have jumped the gun, so to speak, on technology solving the “education problem.” By narrowly focusing on what is symbolically referred to as 21st-century skills, which really translates to skills that have been identified as being of value to the global marketplace or corporate America, educational experts have overlooked the fact that nearly 14% of the U.S. population (14 and older) are illiterate. Stated differently, approximately 32 million Americans cannot read or write at a basic level.

In actuality, these estimates are low because most low-functioning adults have learned to hide amongst the general population. The so-called functional illiterates might be our parents, students, neighbors, soccer coaches or even online followers. Therefore, I argue that any educator or technology expert that is truly serious about teaching and learning must first begin any educational technology integration discussions with considering how it will assist in decreasing underachievement and closing literacy gaps. For me, as an education equity and reform advocate, I am not yet convinced that educational experts are vociferous enough about using technology to improve on literacy for the poor and other marginalized individuals in our nation. Thus, as technology integration arguments stand from a policy perspective, I declare that many runners in the technology race have “jumped the gun” and must be disqualified, due to lacking an equity driven focus.

Venus E. Evans-Winters (@ileducprof), associate professor of education, teaches at Illinois State University in the department of Educational Administration & Foundations and is a faculty affiliate in Women & Gender Studies. She teaches in the areas of educational policy, qualitative research and critical race theory and pedagogy. Her research interests are the schooling experiences of urban children and adolescents, school resilience and cultural-learning communities. She is the author of “Teaching Black Girls: Resiliency in Urban Classrooms” as well as several academic articles and book chapters.