Saturday, May 24, 2008
The Onset of Blindness Caused by VICTIMIZATION
Over the past 48 hours I have consumed two independent pieces of information that, if tied together would introduce a whirlwind of change for the party that I will talk about in a few seconds.
The first bit of information was received from the venerable Bill Moyers. Moyers is a left leaning media activist who sees himself as a new style muckraker. He seeks to "speak truth to power" and fight for his version of societal change for the "commonwealth" rather that for the corporations. This all sounds good so far.
I watched him speak on "LinkTV", the "Progressive" satellite channel that can be seen on DirecTV or on the Internet. Mr. Moyers spoke in 2004 at the "Inequality Conference". He was the keynote speaker. In his speech he opened by given credit to Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of "Nickled and Dimed To Death", the story about how today's society works so much against the working poor, throwing up roadblocks at every turn.
Mr. Moyers opened with a Black poster child to put a face on the poverty and disconnectedness that he wanted to highlight. He talked of a poor Black public school in Mt Veronon, New York. He said that this was one of the poorest areas in the region and with our present school funding formula this school and every child in it gets shunted off to the edges of the society because they don't have the resources necessary to compete. Mr. Moyers told the story about a Black child who wanted to do a book report on a job that the child wants to do once he grows up. The only problem, according to Mr. Moyers was that the library only had books that were more than 30 years old. He used the example of a book which referenced a rotary dial phone with a notation that some day soon we will be able to push a button to dial. He made a few more references regarding how dated and unusable the content of the school were. Clearly he was seeking the most extreme example to make his case that we need to nationalize the public school system, and most importantly ITS FUNDING so that these pockets of isolation would not be present and the people will not be left behind. Of course the standard reference to how with school funding being tied to property taxes that poor communities are made to suffer. No doubt Mr. Moyers will join the crowd which prefers having funding be nationalized with it tied to progressive income taxes rather than as a function of that community's productivity. Far be it for Mr Moyers to have the people who stand to benefit the most from education to place it above other items that they choose to spend their money on.
(Place holder. I will edit the video clip and place it here later)
The second element that I heard from the media that allowed me to have my "Ah ha" moment were two reports heard on "On The Media" - a radio show, with a left bias heard on NPR. This weeks segment focused on the increasing presence of electronic books as well as on-demand printing which is having a drastic impact on the publishing and distribution business. With the technology of on-demand printing the power shifts back to the center. Where as in the pre-on-demand printing world those with the largest warehouses and distribution outlets - Amazon, Barnes & Noble as well as Borders had the advantage because they had more books in their inventory than did the independent book seller, this new technology is a seismic change. Any outlet that has the printing equipment and the communications link to the publisher's system has an equal playing field with the big guys regarding their ability to offer the widest of selections to the consuming masses. Not only that but a clear case for a "green footprint" can be made because now we only print the books that are ordered rather than preemptively printing and hoping that they sell.
The second story from "On The Media" focused upon the electronic book reader that was designed and then sold by Amazon.com.
This is an electronic database that can store hundreds of books in a portable format. The real innovation, however, resides in its use of "electric ink". The new display technology simulates the paper experience and is easier on the eyes than a traditional LCD video display. There has been a run on the purchase and use of the device. As I check - the device retails for $399. This is a bit too expensive for a general purpose device but I am sure that the price will come down as other manufacturers enter this space. Comparatively an Asus EEE PC which can display PDF files as well as do general computing is a better buy at this point.
Now lets tie these two major points together.
Mr Moyers showed a poor Black school in Mt Vernon NY who's "disconnectedness" from the mainstream of society has had a deletarious impact on the students who are trapped within. Moyers makes reference to the printed past. If you don't have the paper, ink and binding on yourself in physical form then the consumers of this resource are left ignorant, not having access to the words that deliver the knowledge into their brains. The blindness represented in this analysis done by Mr. Moyers is two fold. First he focuses on the POPULAR and TRADITIONAL communications media from which these students are to receive their knowledge from - the books versus more electronic media which are great equalizers. For a person so active in the battle over Net Neutrality and the ownership of the Internet I am fully convinced that Mr. Moyers and his team of researchers are very aware of this technology that could open up the school and have it "plugged in" to the reset of the world rather than remaining as a remote outpost, right next to the wealthiest city in the world - New York City.
Secondly Mr. Moyers does not speak to the financing element in which how the situation for these children can be overcome. He would argue that a nationalization of the public school system - akin to Jesse Jackson Jr's CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT is necessary to fix this problem. This "boil the ocean" approach chooses theory over making ground gains. The story heard on "On The Media" discussed that in their on-line form books might be given away for free in exchange for advertising to be published along side of the content. Possibly a commercial shown as the book loads into the electronic reader. I record and watch the Bill Moyers Journal each week. With his "Sole Corporate Sponsor" loudly notated I assure you that he would have his IDEOLOGY trump his notions of PRACTICALITY and would stand firmly against the idea of allowing advertising to eliminate or at least defray the costs of getting this technology into the hands of these children who remain ignorant as they WAIT for Moyers and others to bring the ocean up to 212 degrees and thus these children receive the benefit of having access to these needed resources.
I would also be remiss if I failed to make note of all of the African-Americans who saw fit to pull out their checkbook over the last year and send in a record quantity of donations into the Barack Obama campaign. As we abstract the essential element of what happened - this community saw something that they DESIRED and they chose to FUND IT accordingly and would have given even MORE if there were not caps on the amount that they could give. Now just imagine if we could convince these specific African Americans to get duly motivated to feed this massive quantity of birds that they have in their hands already rather than sending volumes of money to the big bird that is in the bush that seemed more attractive to them. In their mind - upon catching this big bird in the bush that they will change the system around and thus the little birds that they have dropped will have resources trickle down to them. From where I sit - what didn't work at the municipal level once you gained control is not likely to work at a more grand scale. Those who escaped your grasp (and kept their money) will likely do so the next time.
We need to travel overseas to make note of a project which had a similar challenge of placing technology into the hands of poor school children - the One Laptop Per Child initiative. Their original target of producing a $100 laptop was released as a $199 unit. They come up with the ingenious financing plan where Western charitable contributors seeking to make a difference can "buy one, give one". Pay about $400 and we'll send you a computer and then send another to a poor nation in Africa, Asia or South America. For the life of me upon hearing about the "Digital Divide" here in America for more than 10 years - why is it that no one came up with such a plan domestically? A reengineered machine where low cost is the primary design criteria and then an innovative financing plan to insure mass distribution. Instead they turned to the GOVERNMENT for programs and then to CORPORATIONS for donations. Certain operatives were shown at the various ribbon cutting ceremonies over time. Where are these computer labs today? Only God knows.
I have just laid about a rough framework of how we can introduce TECHNOLOGY that will allow written information to be placed into the hands of more students who are currently disconnected. Coupled with that is the financing plan. It is far past the time to discontinue the assumed inferiority and victim state of these displaced people. They are bigger victims of blind thinking and ideological constraints that have those who work on their behalf to follow the same old rut in the world rather than to innovate.
If we are indeed crafting the 21st Century class room then let us also use 21st century technology to communicate knowledge to the students and 21 century funding to insure that they receive it.