Word Processing Skills Are Not Writing Skills

Article excerpt

Earlier this year, the steady drum beat of hysteria about "information haves and have-nots" hit a fever pitch when two University of Vanderbilt researchers released a study about the "the digital divide" between Black and White access to computers and the Internet.

Donna Hoffman and Thomas Novak, the authors of the study, in ominous tones argued "the consequences of this race gap in Internet use are expected to be severe." Moreover, they noted that "the United States economy may also be at risk if a significant segment of our society, denied equal access to the Internet, lacks the technological skills to keep American firms competitive."

Of particular interest to educators, the study highlighted the case of high school and college students where "74 percent of White students own a home computer, [while] 32.9 percent of African American students own one." Further, the study noted, the difference remains even after adjusting for students' reported household income. To emphasize the seriousness of this detail, the authors commented in italics: "This is the most disturbing case yet of when race matters .... Our results suggest strongly that, in terms of students' use of the Web, particularly when students do not have a home computer, race matters."

In the wake of the study's finding, media outlets, government officials, and community activists across the country called for efforts to close the chasm.

The real issue, however, has nothing to do with computers. The digital divide is a symptom of a far more critical racial cleavage in society -- that of access to high quality education.

Colleges and universities should resist the trendy focus on electronic gadgetry as a means of mental emancipation and stick to their strengths in the classic tradition of liberal arts education.

One finding in the study was that overall income "has little direct effect on Web use" while increasing levels of education "positively increase Web use."

Put another way, education drives Web use and not the other way around. Too many people seem to think that teaching a child to use a word processor is the same as teaching a child to write. Writing and word processing are fundamentally different skills. …