Sometimes there are moments in our lives that bring perspective. Many of us in this space spend a great deal of our time advocating for the use of technology in education. We are very passionate about what we believe, and as time passes, the lens through which we look distorts to exclude that which lies beyond technology.
Sometimes I wonder about what we are advocating for.
This past week I had the honor of listening to a grad student I had in class last year talk about her summer trip to Zambia. She told the story of the need. The destitution. The lack of so much that we take for granted. She spoke of children who lined up by the hundreds so that they might receive a single pencil. A pencil. Not an iPod, or laptop, or cell phone, or netbook. A single shaving of wood lined with graphite. And she spoke of kids without books. Kids who are trying to read without the words with which to accomplish the task. Kids who crave the learning yet lack access to the intellectual nourishment. She was so impacted by the experience, that she started her own nonprofit, called A to Z Literacy Movement. Her goal is to bring 22,000 books to Zambia next summer. What a noble cause.
I am also brought to think of perspective after hearing about John Schinker's summer trip to Africa. On a recent EdTechTalk Weekly episode, he spoke of the difficulty coming home to face what people here think are problems. Spend time with kids who face a 1 in 5 chance of losing a parent to AIDS, have no electricity, see friends die of starvation, have a life expectancy of 40 and then try to take seriously the complaints about technology here at home. It demonstrates our perspective clearly.
Am I saying we should all quit our jobs and start finding ways to directly help in these places of need? Maybe. But more realistically, I think we can all work on ways to get involved in these causes. Teach our students about the need and find ways to help. Use the technology we have available along with the young brilliance we have in our classes to work on filling the void of wants and needs in our world. Provide our students the opportunities to problem solve beyond the hypothetical.
And, I think we need some perspective. Remember that a pencil is technology, and that there are kids who are denied even that much. And when your email goes down for an hour, or YouTube is blocked in your district, or you can only get the cart of laptops for two days instead of three, remember the kid holding a brand new pencil, now searching desperately for a piece of paper on which to use his new treasure.