Bridging the Divide: One to One Laptop Loanership
Copyright 2006 Miguel Guhlin

Some argue for letting students own their laptops. But, who pays? Should parents and teachers incur the cost of making America's children successful, all on their own, in the face of “flat world” market pressures? The poor, the middle class who cannot afford laptops for their children know enough to treasure them when their children bring them home. Can a laptop for every student make a difference in student achievement? Of course not. But can students and teachers using laptops engage each other better? Don't bother reaching for the research. The answer is YES.

Amidst shrinking budgets, schools start in fear at the cost of one to one laptop initiatives. For a district of 56,000 students, the cost of equipping every student with a $500 laptop running free, open source software (e.g. Open Office, CmapTools graphic organizer) is $28 million. Drop the cost of the laptop to MIT's $100, and you are still facing a whopping $5.6 million. In the 56K student district in Texas, that's a little over $4 million more than the State provides per student for technology. As it stands, schools are hard-pressed to justify their federal and stage-grant sponsored technology spending. How can they hope to spend one more cent with extreme budget cuts, even as teachers are consistently maligned for poor teaching, much less substandard technology use?

In the meantime, in Asia and India, they are racing to provide technology to students. They are even now racing to equip the elect with all the hardware and free software they can find. In America, should we not do the same? Let parents and students bring their own laptops to school? What have we wrought, a just Republic or an imperial government?

Strip away the testing, the drive to meet adequate yearly progress, and what is left? Teachers see students struggle to form words on a blank page, one poorly formed letter after another. They work alone, bound by place and time, unable to touch each other's minds and hearts, to engage with apt analogies and emotional exchanges around relevant life issues. At the end, what makes us real, is how we communicate with others, solve problems together, and create common solutions relevant to our situation. The best learning comes from questions, questions that we ask of ourselves and others, drawing upon a world of information.

Like their parents, children want to connect with others, to make technology their own. Loanership of technology can do that, each successive generation of students using their laptops as keys to a digital world of conversation. Should we not, as parents and educators, ensure that they have what they need as a Society? After all, they are not unlike us. Let's choose to NOT buy $1200 laptops for every child that have to be upgraded every year due to mandatory software upgrades.

Instead, let's re-examine the core of what it means to be educated and how we can make available to our students what they need—a cheap laptop with free, open source software--to be used for communication, collaboration, and creative solution construction.
We must loan laptops to our children and adults in K-12 schools. Only then will they be able to tap into the collective conversation that spans racial, cultural, continental, and yes, digital divides.