By Crisanne Werner, August 24, 2020
Last week I wrote a post but forgot to save it; it’s floating around somewhere in the cyberverse (maddening)! After trying and trying to reconstruct it, I decided to scrap it and just rewrite the heart of the message.
It’s a message about the current crisis of internet access. Or, rather, lack of internet access. Multitudes of K-12 schools have moved online for the 2020-2021 school year, which decreases risk of COVID transmission, but increases inequality in education access.
Not having high-speed internet at home now has the potential to become a second segregation in the form of determining whether or not a student actually attends school. And, a second segregation in a country that hasn’t ever recovered from the “original,” racial segregation is alarming.
Even prior to COVID, internet access was an issue. Dubbed the “homework gap” by policymakers, students without home internet were increasingly unable to complete virtual homework assignments, which put them at a disadvantage compared to their connected peers.
And students of color, unsurprisingly, were already disproportionately suffering. Connected Nation reported in 2018:
“The persistently greater disadvantage for children of color deserves special attention. Roughly one-third (31.4%) of households with incomes below $50,000 a year and children between 6 and 17 years old do not have high-speed internet at home. This number is much higher for Black (38.6%) and Hispanic (37.4%) families with school-aged children in the same income bracket.” (source: connectednation.org)
Districts all over the nation are scrambling to fix the problem, but it has been piecemeal. Some appeal to philanthropists, or internet and phone providers to subsidize the cost or provide community hotspots. One district in Maryland has been setting up hotspots in unconventional places (like old church steeples!) to increase access. But there is currently no coordinated, federal response to address access issues.
It is tempting to think that this is a year we can just suffer through and move on from. But that’s not how life works; nothing happens in a vacuum. The educations of students who fall behind this year will continue to be affected down the line:
“It’s dire,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who has pushed to increase funding that subsidizes the cost of Internet service for schools and libraries. Her district contains parts of rural Virginia that are not served by Internet service providers. “We are generationally committing to significant divides in our communities over what kind of education our children are getting.” (Moriah Balinget, 2020)
But where the rubber really meets the road for me isn’t just sitting here wondering what the federal government could or should do to fix this. Really, they don’t have time to fix it. But now, being aware of the problem, I can pray, “God, what next? How would you have me respond to this issue of injustice?”
One of my first steps was to talk about it with my kids. We had a conversation before bedtime recently that went like this:
“Guys, what did we use internet for today?”
“Right. And, you know, we also use the internet to learn things. And sometimes we do school on it. Did you know there are some kids who don’t have internet at home?”
“Yep. And it’s sad because some of them will have a hard time doing school this year. Let’s pray for them.”
I’m not sure my kids understood the implications of others not being able to do online school, but they definitely understood the tragedy of being without YouTube! So, even if our kids don’t grasp everything, conversations about injustices begin to plant seeds of awareness that are foundational for their developing minds and hearts. As their parents we can help them see what God sees and care for what God cares for.
As I’ve prayed and brainstormed, I’ve dreamed up a few more action steps that we could take to do our part in combating this problem:
-Rally your church leaders around this issue. What if our churches were known in their communities for funding internet access for families in need? What a relevant, impactful witness that would be.
-If you are financially able alone, or with a friend or two, ask your school if you could fund internet access for a family in need for a year.
-Keep your eyes and ears open. Sometimes we don’t see injustices because we aren’t looking. But as you go about the school year, watch for those you can help.
-Pray. And be ready to act when the Lord moves you.
The more I dive into the anti-racist life the more I am convinced that action doesn’t always have to be a coordinated, official effort with a brand and logo. It can simply be individuals engaged with Jesus’ heart: ready to be his hands and feet in ordinary places in ordinary ways. So, let’s not forget the poor in our school communities this year. Especially at a time when the unseen become more unseen as we enter a more, or all, digital schooling world.
What do you think about the internet access crisis? Do you personally know families affected by it? Have you seen solutions being put in place in your community? Let us know in the comments.
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