Defining the Context of Early Computer Learning for African American Males in Urban Elementary Schools

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

No one can reasonably argue that the computer has not assumed great importance in society today. Navigating the information superhighway on the Internet is an excellent example of the type of informational exchanges that occur for those who possess the technology and understand its use. Computers and their usage cut across diverse aspects of modern culture. A principal factor that has spawned rapid computer usage is the invention and mass production of the microcomputer. Its low cost, power, speed, and ease of use has helped to spark widespread acceptance of computer technology. Thus, the microcomputer can be viewed as a gateway technology that allows its users access to the plethora of information available electronically.

Dizard (1982) and Toffler (1990) describe the "Information Age" or the "Third Wave" of societal development, respectively. Both descriptions characterize a new era of human development in which information will be increasingly viewed as a commodity, and one that is directly linked to economic and social mobility. McLuhan (1989) purports that this phenomenon is global and that, as it spreads, separate and discrete societies will be transformed and restructured into "global villages."

As we move more toward the year 2000 and more fully into this Information Age, some have forecast that economic and societal woes will prevent many from being productively involved in the usage of information technologies. Over twenty years ago, Toffler (1971) warned of the emergence of an "information-rich"-"information-poor" dichotomy in the United States. Due to the general lack of economic, educational, and other societal opportunities available to them, it appears that African Americans and other minorities will constitute a large segment of the information-poor category. Thus, these populations would be at risk of failure in the Information Age.

While lack of resources and opportunities will prohibit many African Americans from large-scale involvement in the Information Age, young African American males will be most significantly affected. Gibbs (1988) has already suggested that African American males are quickly becoming an "endangered species." As she and others (Johnson & Watson, 1990; Jones, 1986; Yeakey & Bennett, 1990) report, a growing and alarming number of African American males are either becoming victims of negative circumstances (e.g., dropping out of school at an early age, being sent to penal institutions, or succumbing to urban violence) or becoming participants in activities that are counterproductive to their development (e.g., drugs and gangs). Despite the grim indicators of a diminished quality of life for African American males, there are many who believe that technology, and specifically computer technology, can be used productively to reach African American men and boys before they become at risk for educational and occupational failure. Whether this can be accomplished is the central concern of this article.

AFRICAN AMERICAN MALES AND COMPUTERS

Many believe that computer technology can be employed to reach students at risk of educational and occupational failure (those belonging to racial minority groups with low socioeconomic status) and aid them in becoming productive and contributing members of information-based societies (Bialo & Sivin, 1989a, 1989b; casey, 1992; Haile, 1990; Lee, 1986; Merrell, 1991; Pogrow, 1990; Ross, Morrison, Smith, & Cleveland, 1990; Wepner, 1991). Unfortunately, few empirical studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of computers for reaching at-risk African American males specifically. What is known about this issue is that the educational imperative for using electronic technology to reach atrisk learners was originally set forth by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983). In its landmark report, A Nation at Risk, the Commission condemned the public system of education for its failure to educate the at-risk student population (of which a large number are African American males). …