Paper $22.50 ISBN: 9780226726694 Will Publish August 2020
Cloth $85.00 ISBN: 9780226726557 Will Publish August 2020
An e-book edition will be published.

Digital Divisions

How Schools Create Inequality in the Tech Era

Matthew H. Rafalow

Digital Divisions

Matthew H. Rafalow

224 pages | 1 halftone, 6 tables | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2020
Paper $22.50 ISBN: 9780226726694 Will Publish August 2020
Cloth $85.00 ISBN: 9780226726557 Will Publish August 2020
E-book $22.50 ISBN: 9780226726724 Will Publish August 2020
In the digital age, schools are a central part of a nationwide effort to make access to technology more equitable, so that all young people, regardless of identity or background, have the opportunity to engage with the technologies that are essential to modern life. Most students, however, come to school with digital knowledge they’ve already acquired from the range of activities they participate in with peers online. Yet, teachers, as Matthew H. Rafalow reveals in Digital Divisions, interpret these technological skills very differently based on the race and class of their student body.
While teachers praise affluent White students for being “innovative” when they bring preexisting and sometimes disruptive tech skills into their classrooms, less affluent students of color do not receive such recognition for the same behavior. Digital skills exhibited by middle class, Asian American students render them “hackers,” while the creative digital skills of working-class, Latinx students are either ignored or earn them labels troublemakers. Rafalow finds in his study of three California middle schools that students of all backgrounds use digital technology with sophistication and creativity, but only the teachers in the school serving predominantly White, affluent students help translate the digital skills students develop through their digital play into educational capital. Digital Divisions provides an in-depth look at how teachers operate as gatekeepers for students’ potential, reacting differently according to the race and class of their student body. As a result, Rafalow shows us that the digital divide is much more than a matter of access: it’s about how schools perceive the value of digital technology and then use them day-to-day.

Chapter 1 Similar Technologies, Different Schools

Chapter 2 Disciplining Play

Chapter 3 Where Disciplinary Orientations Come From

Chapter 4 Schools as Socializing Agents for Digital Participation


Appendix: Methodology
Review Quotes
Natasha Warikoo, Tufts University
Digital Divisions [offers an] interesting peek inside three schools and [. . .] the ways that the race and class of the student body seems to shape the schools’ relationships with technology. At the most elite, predominantly white school [Rafalow studies], teachers encourage ‘play’ and deep engagement with technology, and students learn to craft professional digital selves. They envision themselves as creators of content, not just consumers. At the predominantly Asian school, surveillance dominates the school’s relationship with technology—students are seen as dangerous hackers, and they are intensely policed in their technology usage. At the third, predominantly Latinx school, teachers hold a patronizing stance toward students, and use technology for basic skills improvement. The ‘play’ aspect of technology is seen as irrelevant to these students. [. . . D]espite these three schools having comparable technology resources and on the surface not showing a digital divide, [Digital Divisions shows that] what happens in the usage of that technology is most certainly unequal.”
Linn Posey-Maddox, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Digital Divisions focuses on whether, and in what ways, schools prepare students for the Digital Age. The book offers a novel analysis by uncovering social inequities in how technology is used in schools and how student race, class, and organizational cultures shape the extent to which—and how—digital play is valued and incorporated into the everyday practices of teaching and learning. [. . .] As [Rafalow] notes in the conclusion, researchers may miss key forms of inequities in education if we simply focus on access to technology or the mere presence of digitally-oriented instruction while ignoring how it’s used in the day-to-day workings of schools.”
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