Posted on March 1, 2014
It’s funny how we think of homelessness. It seemingly exists everywhere, and is certainly visible in most urban centers, yet we all seem resolved to its inevitability. That’s what makes Utah’s incredible plan to end (yes, end) the societal ill so amazing.
In 2005, the historically Conservative state crunched the numbers and discovered that the annual cost of hospitalization and jail stays for Utah’s homeless would be more than simply giving each person an apartment and social worker. So that’s just what they did. Every homeless individual received a place to live and a caseworker to help them become self sufficient, no strings attached. The home is theirs for as long as they need it; even if they ‘fail’ to become employed, ‘upstanding’ citizens.
Utah is on track to completely abolish homelessness in their state by 2015.
Mind blowing, right? I had to read several articles on it myself to feel confident in its validity. In the past decade, homeless crime, health, and other issues have taken a stark turn towards the positive. It’s a real reminder to all of us that, on occasion, the best solution to a problem can actually be a fairly obvious one, and that, sometimes, deeply human dilemmas can be unpacked with cold, hard data and economics.
I am so inspired by this story not simply because it is an uncommonly positive one, but because it’s a rare instance where a frequently polarized (and seemingly endless) debate on how to solve a social problem has both ‘the left’ and ‘the right’ putting aside politics in praise of an actual solution. And, of course, it’s got me thinking about analogues to our world of education (I really hope I don’t botch this one, as I would never want to see the amazing work of Utah belittled with a horrendous comparison).
I’ve been integrating technology into my teaching and my students’ learning for over a decade now. We’ve used it as a gimmick, we’ve used it to transform our learning. We’ve created ridiculous things, we’ve created beautiful, moving pieces of art. I’ve had students and parents who think we’re just playing around, “not really learning”, and I’ve had families suggest that the use of technology in my class changed their lives forever. With a wide spectrum of experiences and varying degrees of quality of use, I will say one thing unequivocally.
The most amazing things being done by our students with technology are increasingly occuring outside of school.
I have come to discover that, in the world of digital ubiquity that we live in now, there are few things that can be done in the confines of a school building that can ever compare to what young people are accomplishing when literally left to their own devices at home. For instance, do you know when I found blogging and social media most ‘redefining’ (in the terms of SAMR) in my classroom? It was when these technologies were in their relative infancy rather than their current ubiquity. Why? Probably because it’s actually the youth that should be teaching us.
That’s the approach I’ve always taken with my students with #edtech: We will learn to use this stuff together. I have a certain standing in the room because I have much more experience than you in using technology, but this is only going to work if we take a group approach.
So what I’m trying to express to you is equal parts cynicism and optimism.
I’m cynical because I don’t think we are very good at this technology thing at all in schools (which, I hope you understand, is different than saying we shouldn’t use or purchase technology in schools). In my experience, there are wondrous things happening everywhere in pockets, but horrendously expensive waste happening in most other places. Not because any individual or group is to blame, but more due to a multitude of complex reasons: we keep trying to share really expensive school supplies like they’re chairs when they are actually more akin to shoes; we tend to forsake equity for equality in distribution; hardware becomes redundant in the blink of an eye; the list goes on. Furthermore, when we do attempt to integrate a potentially transformative new technology in Education, we chronically lean towards a sanitized, standardized, and centrally controlled use of said tool or space.
I’m extremely optimistic, on the other hand, because I’ve seen with my own eyes what our youth are using technology for outside of our institution, with no prying eyes, mark to receive, or limitations on content (what Dean Shareski might call “blowing the ceiling”. And, by the way, no one covers this stuff, which is why you won’t see it on your 6 ‘o’clock news after the story on cyberbullying. Is everyone using their technology to innovate, better themselves and others, or take their learning deeper? Of course not. But I would hazard to guess that the proportions in our youth are greater than those in our 18+ set.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I wish we could just give underprivileged families technology, with no strings attached, and say:
Do. Whatever. You want. With it. See this laptop? It’s yours. Take it. We trust that you’ll put it to good use. Use it for school work or not. Don’t give it back. Oh, unless you need help fixing it. You won’t need to ‘prove’ that you’re using it in the way that we approve, and we won’t care if our school test scores increase/decrease. And, by the way, in three years time, come back for a new model.
I know this sounds utopian and crazy, but isn’t that what the Utah idea seemed like at first? Is access to technology an Education issue or a social one?