Elizabeth Cook: Education is not about just your kid

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 24, 2014

When leaders in the Mooresville Graded School District started talking about aggressively using digital technology to educate children, not everyone was for it.
Leon Pridgen, an author and actor now on the Mooresville school board, told a Salisbury group last week that he had his doubts at first.
When people talked about getting rid of books, his thought was “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” They were talking about his livelihood.
But then a parent at an advisory council meeting dismissed the digital idea by saying nearly everyone already had Internet access at home.
Pridgen said he was the only African-American in the room. That parent was thinking about other families he knew — not families that looked like Pridgen’s. And that got Pridgen’s attention.
If someone was satisfied with 75 percent of the district’s children having access to the Internet at home, Pridgen said, then that person had already discounted 25 percent of the community’s children.
“That’s when the whole thing changed for me,” he said. “What about every kid having the same opportunity?”
Pridgen had Internet access at home, but he was not worried about just his kid. He was worried about the kids who didn’t have the same access and technology.
How could they possibly keep up?

Seven years later, Pridgen is a digital-learning believer — and a member of Discovery Education’s speakers bureau. Discovery provides the streaming educational video material and other digital resources that have made Mooresville’s use of technology so successful. Discovery Education reportedly reaches more than a million students in 50 states.
Rowan-Salisbury now hopes Discovery Education’s services, along with Apple’s iBooks and iPads, will do the same for this system.
Pridgen spoke Wednesday evening at Carson High School to a small group of people from the Salisbury-Rowan community.
“It is an amazing thing that you’re taking on,” he said.
When Mooresville parents and educators talked about it, “I was petrified,” Pridgen said. It wasn’t going to look like anything he knew. The schools would have to worry about ensuring children’s safety and monitoring the sites they visited. This was going to change the trajectory of people’s lives.
And what was worse, there was no Mooresville to model the program after. Rowan-Salisbury and others are making the technology leap because we’ve seen how it worked in Mooresville. But Mooresville started comparatively alone.
The results have been impressive. Scholarships for graduates are up 300 percent, Pridgen said. The graduation rate has improved dramatically, perhaps most dramatically for African-Americans.
And despite the emphasis on technology, if you go into a classroom you will still see books there. If you walk the halls of elementary schools, you’ll still see popsicle-stick art and paper mache projects.

We tend to expect the classrooms of today to resemble those of our own childhood, when teachers could line 30-some kids up in neat rows of desks and make them all follow the same lessons at the same speed all day. It was mass-production education.
Our society has changed, our children have changed, our workplace has changed. No one moves in lock-step anymore.
I used to worry about children who grew up in houses without books, newspapers and other reading material. What a disadvantage for them. Now there’s a technology component to being at-risk. No computer means no ability to get to resources that more fortunate classmates access without even thinking about it.
Digital learning won’t be perfect and it won’t solve all the schools’ challenges. But its time has come.
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.