Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America–Rory Kennedy Docu about Differential Resources in Schools

Rory Kennedy’s earnest but well intentioned docu, Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America shows the obvious, that many schools today remain underfunded as far as technology is concerned.  It’s the old, conventional wisdom of the haves and haves not: Children from rich neighborhoods have better facilities that help them to foster stronger skills needed in the post-capitalist market.

Narrated in a matter-of-fact mode by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, the film discusses the things that a classroom needs to prepare youngsters for modern life in the 21st century. First, every student needs his own laptop or tablet; sharing and inability to take devices home are handicapped.  Second, those electronics require connectivity, with reliable wi-fi in classrooms and access to the internet at home.  Third, teachers must be prepared and skilled to incorporate it into their curricula.

In the Los Angeles Unified school district, a $1 billion-plus plan to give every kid an iPad flopped because the teachers lacked proper training.  Kennedy talks to former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who says that students with different schooling experiences illustrate the problem.

Two schools in the Pennsylvania are just five miles from each other but are vastly different. In Lansdowne, a high school senior says only one student out of eight can be using a computer at any given time; her calculus classroom has nothing more powerful than a calculator in it. Meanwhile, at Lower Merion High School, girls are building robots, using CAD tools, learning engineering and pairing tablets with their laptops.

The film discusses the role that local funding plays in school budgets compared to federal ones. In the absence of money from Washington, schools rely on the help of nonprofits and giant corporations.

New York City’s P.S. 171 has a corporate sponsor that gives tablets to students. Each kid gets a bag with a Verizon logo on it, and an iPad set up on a stand that reads Innovative Learning.”

But despite signing franchise deal with New York in 2008, that promised to make high-speed fiber internet available, Fios is still unavailable to New Yorkers in poor regions, which led to the city suing Verizon.

 Distributor: National Geographic