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One of the great- are unwelcome interlopers in the class- room. Without the prod of a standards- âMany of Americaâs bad est fearsof those based curriculum, computers tend to dreams and scariest future be used not for creative exploration but who are skeptical for drill and practice work, which is more scenarios stem from a about the potential for likely to frustrate students than it is to single and terrible fact: inspire them. technology to help reinvent this nation has a vast and It would be tragic if the selective appli- schools is that it will benefit cation of technology in education were to disenfranchised underclass, only rich schools and will there- widen the inequities in American educa- drawn most shamefully fore widen the gap between the haves tion, because in other spheres the personal along racial lines, and and the have-nots. But information computer has been a powerful democratiz- technologies can transform education for ing influence. Personal computers distrib- whose plight we are danger- any student. Already, in a handful of ute capabilities from central locations to ously close to accepting inner city schools around the country, stu- the machines on each individualâs desk. as a simple fact of life, dents are riding the Internet to access They greatly increase the individualâs abili- information and talk to students through- ty to communicate, to learn, to work. They a permanent feature of the out the world. They are participating in have helped undermine tyrannies, such as American landscape. science experiments with tens of thou- when personal computers and faxes were What we are discussing sands of their peers. They are managing used both during the Tiananmen Square imaginary stock portfolios using informa- uprising and in the declining days of the represents nothing less than tion from Wall Street. They are working Soviet Union to transmit information to this nationâs last and best with desktop publishing programs to put the outside world. hope of providing something out school newspapers and collections of Information technologies can also pre- their poems and short stories. serve the traditions that make communities like a level socioeconomic The problem is that for the majority strong. Consider the playing field for a true of disadvantaged schoolchildren, such a âvirtual museumâ âTechnology may well play majority of its citizens.â transformation is nowhere in sight. It is now being built by a pivotal role in allowing âWILLIAM GIBSON , AUTHOR not that poorer schools do not have com- the Smithsonian puters; almost all schools in the United Institutionâs National native people to sustain a States now have some com- Museum of the cultural present and build puters. But without American Indian. A a cultural future that the funds to main- student in New tain hardware Mexico will be able to our cultural past deserves, and upgrade call up on a computer indeed demands.â software, com- screen an image of an ENSURING artifact stored in the âR ICHARD W EST , S MITHSONIAN puters sit bro- 20 NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE ken down in museum, rotate the EQUITY closets and image, read the cura- AMERICAN INDIAN computer labs. torâs text describing Without the the piece, and then resources to train teachers, computers Keyboards with large letters enable the visu- ally impaired to use computers (right), while microphones such as the one shown at left allow people to communicate with their computers through speech. As Secretary of Education Richard Riley points out: âIf a child is capable of any move- ment, even just the blinking of an eye, there is a technology available that can help him or her to learn.â
T send a question to the curator. Huge of the most powerful means available for hrough recent histo- libraries of film and photographs will be breaching the barriers of class, race, and ry there have been accessible from the archives. The museumâs income that divide Americans. two views of technology. network will allow Native Americans to Technology can also provide greatly communicate with each other, take classes, increased opportunities for another group The first sees technolo- or read the latest postings from Native of disadvantaged Americans: people with gy as available predomi- American news sources. physical disabilities. nantly to the economi- Government has an Technologies that allow dis- âWhat is wonderful about important role in ensuring abled students to interact cally advantaged. The computer is being indepen- access to new technologies. It with computers can dramati- second sees technology can pay for hardware for dis- cally level the educational dent instead of being cod- as a means of lowering barri- advantaged schools, educate playing field. Hardware and dled all the time, like a baby teachers, link all schools to software are now available ers between the financially in arms, because of my computer networks, and dis- that can translate written well off and those less eco- seminate information about words into speech for the blindness. It feels like being nomically fortunate. useful hardware and software. blind or allow paralyzed indi- coddled like a baby some- Access will also increase as viduals to enter words into a History suggests that the times, because everybody computer prices drop and computer. New speech sys- latter is most often the rela- computing becomes even tems can recognize and con- wants to help.â tionship of technology and cheaper and more ubiquitous. vert spoken words into words âJANICE WARE, STUDENT But government cannot on a computer screen. By society. Major technologies ensure equity. Only a com- enabling the disabled to deployed today, such as the mitment by the public and by all levels of attend regular schools, work at jobs, and airplane, saw early accep- the educational system can do that. Society participate more fully in society, these sys- has a great interest in enabling all its citi- tems are both tremendously fulfilling for tance by those with financial zens to participate in the economic and the people who use them and cost-effective resources, but increasingly social mainstream. Technology offers one to society as a whole. and especially in recent decades have become much more available, as evidenced by the wide use of air travel. Electronic technologies more than any in the past have spread rapidly at much lower costs. Today games played by children are purchased and played across all socioe- conomic groups. Though poor neighbor- hoods and families face daunting challenges, technol- ogy deployed in education can help remove inequities between the schools of the inner city and the suburbs, U.S. Senator âWe must make sure that Percentage of All U.S. Students between cities and rural dis- Bob Kerrey and the information highway Who Report a Computer in the Washington, D.C., tricts, and inequities faced by Home by Socioeconomic Status does not bypass our urban student Mia people with physical disabili- 100 Robinson share a centers like other trans- ties and by Native Americans. moment in cyber- portation systems once did. space. Kerrey has Technology can become the To do so would disable yet introduced legisla- 80 82 force that equalizes the edu- 77 tion that would another generation of 74 cational opportunities of all establish electronic educators and yet another learning centers in children regardless of loca- 60 generation of students.â communities to tion and social and economic âWARREN SIMMONS, NATIONAL give all citizens 48 circumstance. This should access to informa- 44 CENTER ON EDUCATION AND 40 tion technologies. 38 be the national goal. THE E CONOMY 20 16 14 12 0