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November 4, 2007 / Ben Chun

High School Requirements

Sitting around my living room the other day, some of the people I live with got to talking about the place of technology in education. Or, more accurately, I got to talking about it and the people I live with tend to be gracious in going along with topics like this. I was reflecting on how different it feels to be teaching a technology elective (outside the “core” of graduation requirements, and outside the list of subjects governed by state standards), versus how it felt to teach math.

It has been incredibly freeing to teach classes without a huge list of required state standards that will appear on a high-stakes test at the end of the year. It’s also more difficult, in a way, to set a course based on my own judgement about what is important for students to know and understand. I feel like I’m working at a deeper level when I have to justify to myself the inclusion of a particular topic or the level of detail for that topic. I also feel a little less urgency, which could be positive or negative, depending if that relaxed feeling means wasted time or if it means a more appropriate pace.

But the discussion came to an interesting point: With no state standards and no graduation requirement related to technology, California has kids graduating from high school without ever being asked to know how to send an email, how to use a word processor, or how to search for information online. I would expect that most schools have teachers (of English or history or science) that ask students to do some of these things at some point, and hopefully provide them with some related instruction. But there’s no rule and no standard. Of course, if the state mandated a minimum level of instruction in technology, the state would also have to create some kind of plan for deploying and supporting computers in schools. Right now, that’s very much left to individual districts and schools. The result is inequity.

I feel lucky, and I feel like my students are lucky, to be at a school where we have hundreds of computers being used by students every day. It’s my job to help them learn how to use these tools effectively and appropriately and efficiently. But what about the rest of San Francisco and California? Isn’t it time to make a commitment to providing this kind of education to all students?

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