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The Absence of Wi-Fi as Crime of the Century?

“A crime is happening in our schools every day,” wrote Peter Cohen and Jeff Livingston in a Wednesday Atlantic column. That crime being inflicted upon America’s innocent schoolchildren: their agonizing lack of wall-to-wall Wi-Fi. The McGraw-Hill president and vice president write,

At work and at home, most of us live our very wired, connected lives—moving between wi-fi zones as we give little thought to the millions of schoolchildren around the country who go to school every day without Internet or broadband connections, without access to 1:1 computing, and without the benefit of modern handheld learning devices.

In light of this injustice, U.S. Department of Education official Richard Culatta told this year’s SXSWedu festival that “angry mobs of parents should be storming schools with pitchforks,” according to the article. How have these students managed to survive school without Internet access constantly at their fingertips?

Thankfully, salvation is nigh: President Obama’s ConnectED initiative “aims within five years to connect 99 percent of America’s students through next-generation broadband … and high-speed wireless networks in schools.”

Under the McGraw-Hill mindset, teachers couldn’t possibly teach without access to the newest plethora of educational apps and software available online. Students, so accustomed to their digital devices, couldn’t be expected to learn via old-fashioned methods. It is not fair to insist they write with pencils and read dusty old books. They need an interactive, online experience from classroom to hallway to cafeteria.

It’s not that students don’t have Internet at school. Most of them do—but in some locations, it is limited and/or slow. This makes it difficult for students to access the latest interactive educative apps with the appropriate speed, apps that just happen to be sold by McGraw-Hill. Cohen and Livingston also note that “Cisco, a global leader in IT, recently recommended that the FCC put more money into the Obama initiative.” One can understand why, given how many more one-room libraries and small schoolhouses are in need of $20,000 Cisco routers. As they so adroitly put it, it’s time “to get our schools on the superhighway,” notwithstanding the failure of high-tech schools to live up to their lofty promises.

Otherwise, we might foster a generation of nerds who enjoy learning the old-fashioned way: students who enjoy doing actual science experiments, who write out their math homework on antiquated graph paper, who read print books and are forced to practice such antiquated skills as handwriting. Failing to shovel our money into technical solutions to our educational problems, Cohen and Livingston say, “would make us all complicit in what could otherwise be considered one of the greatest crimes of the 21st century.”

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

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