Dismantling the Digital Divide: A Multicultural Education Framework

Article excerpt

Multicultural education calls for all aspects of education to be continuously examined, critiqued, reconsidered, and transformed based on ideals of equity and social justice. This includes instructional technology and covers its content and delivery (or curriculum and pedagogy) (Gorski, 2000). That is, it is not enough to critically examine the individual resources-in this case, CD-ROMs, Web sites, or pieces of software-we use to ensure inclusivity.

Instead, we must dig deeper and consider the medium itself and how it is being used differently in different contexts. What roles are various software titles, Web sites, and the computers that facilitate our use of them, playing in education? Are they contributing to education equity or supporting current systems of control and domination of those groups already historically privileged in the United States education system (such as White people, boys and men, first language English speakers, and able-bodied people)?

The term "digital divide" has traditionally described inequalities in access.to computers and the Internet between groups of people based on one or more social or cultural identifiers (Clark & Gorski, 2001). Under this conceptualization, researchers tend to compare rates of access to these technologies across individuals or schools based on race, sex, disability status, and other identity dimensions. The "divide" refers to the difference in access rates among groups. The racial digital divide, for example, describes the difference in rates of access to computers and the Internet, at home and school, between those racial groups with high rates of access (White people and Asian and Asian-American people) and those with lower rates of access (Black people and Latina[o] people).

Similarly, the sex- or gender digital divide refers to the gap in access rates between men and women. So, by August 2000, when women surpassed men to become a majority of the United States online population (NTIA, 2000), many people also believed the sex digital divide had disappeared. If there were more women than men using the Internet, the logic went, equality had been achieved. Girls and women were equally likely to use computers and the Internet as boys and men. Still, though the fact that more girls and women were using the Internet is a meaningful step forward, a broader and deeper look at their position in relation to the increasingly techno-centric society and global economy reveals that equal access is considerably different from equitable access.

Equal But Inequitable:

An Example from the Gender Divide

Most of the sex and gender inequities in society are replicated online. For example, research shows that the same sexist communication dynamics that can be observed in board rooms and corporate offices every day are just as easily observed within online discussion forums, despite popular belief that such forums are discrimination free because users cannot see each other. This includes both male dominance of discussion and a lack of respect and acknowledgement of women's contributions (Gerrard, 1999; Grigar, 1999).

In addition, the ever-present and evergrowing Internet pornography industry (Rich, 2001), along with the threat of cyberstalking (Crary, 2001) and the relative ease with which potential sexual predators can attain personal information about women online, make the Internet a hostile- and potentially dangerous--environment for many girls and women.

Equally hostile to women are academic and professional pursuits of mathematics, sciences, engineering, computer sciences (Turkle, 1991)-all traditionally male fields that are closely linked with computers and the Internet. Research shows how women and girls are systematically steered away from these fields beginning as early as elementary school through school culture, classroom climate, traditional gender roles, and other societal pressures (Clark & Gorski, in press). …