- The Digital Edge: How Black and Latino Youth Navigate Digital Inequality by S. Craig Watkins et al.
By S. Craig Watkins with Andres Lombana-Bermudez, Alexander Cho, Jacqueline Ryan Vickery, Vivian Shaw and Lauren Weinzimmer
New York:New York University Press, 2018, pp xvi, 291, $24.66. https://nyupress.org/9781479849857/the-digital-edge/
In the early days of the digital era, the digital divide was all about the haves and the have not. Today the digital landscape is much more complex. S. Craig Watkins and his research team conducted a yearlong ethnography in an under-resourced high school documenting how low income Black and Latinx youth experience digital inequality both on an individual and group level as well as documenting the structural elements of culture lag in education policy and curriculum. Building on research that clearly describes how racial ethnic minorities were early adopters/trendsetters in mobile internet, this book highlights the strategies used to manage precarious connectivity, securing/sharing mobile devices, and the culture lag in school policies regarding internet blockers that further contributes to inequality in terms of access to online learning materials and resources. In identifying a "Digital Edge," this research makes a major contribution in understanding the impact of precarious access to digital technology at school and home as well as missed opportunities for STEM education resulting in further widening the education and income gap, reproducing inequality for low income Black and Latinx youth, and severely impacting communities.
The research team utilizes an "asset narrative" to recognize the resourcefulness, the creativity, and innovation to overcome and partake in digital culture for students that are typically subjected to the "at risk" narrative. In particular, this study emphasized the goals and strategies that youth engaged in regards to digital media—film making and game development, as well as constructing social-learning ecologies. Details on how youth create learning ecologies especially outside of the classroom in after school programs is enlightening emphasizing the role of social capital and human capital. An emphasis in the study was the significance of after school programming in providing opportunities for students to engage in activities that were personally interesting and educationally relevant. The research team, by using ethnography was able to identify a number of cognitive skills such as goal attainment, critical thinking, problem solving, and leadership in the after-school programs. Additionally, documenting the social and learning ecologies in the after school programs also served to emphasize the contradictions in the education system and policies that lag behind in engaging youth during the school day.
While focusing on the individuals and their family situations in their study, the structural patterns that reproduce education and income gaps that our under-privilege youth experience are clearly identified along with a plethora of research that is cited. Several significant structural patterns/issues related to schooling highlighted in this book include STEM technology, dichotomous goals of "career ready" versus "college ready," and the construction of community norms on postsecondary schooling. The over-emphasis on procuring STEM equipment (hardware and software) with no or limited professional development of teachers is documented in the case study of the Gaming Design course. Without the professional development piece for teachers to develop STEM curriculum within their classroom and to fully utilize the equipment is, as the authors observed, a missed opportunity. Another major structural element emphasized in this study is how the school's dichotomized goals of preparing students to be either "career ready" or "college ready" lags behind in the needs of our future workforce. Well document research in this book emphasizes how students that attempt to enter the workforce with only a high school diploma are not equipped to move into careers related to their interests and talent. The interviews with students in terms of career aspirations and the disconnect with the need for further education is heartbreaking. In reading these ethnographic cases, I was not prepared for the pain and sadness of the cases where students that did get accepted to four year postsecondary programs were not able to go due to financial and/or personal circumstances. I agree whole heartedly...