This is a cotton field in Shaw, Mississippi. It’s in the Delta. If you’ve never been to the Delta, just picture sunset landscapes that rival all the other beautiful spots in the U.S. Then, picture that beauty spread like butter over poverty unimaginable to cosmopolitan America. That’s what we’ve got. That’s the legacy of our pockmarked history.
We’ve also got a date with destiny. That Delta cotton field is on a collision course with the future. This spring, students across Mississippi (Shaw kids included) will be taking the PARCC Assessment, the first statewide public school curriculum test designed to be administered not by pencil and paper, but via Internet connection. Sure, there is a waiver process in place for schools unable to comply on time, to get permission to use pencil and paper, but the underlying current is as powerful as our mighty river itself: Mississippi schools are upgrading their technology. More Mississippians than ever are going to be connected to the world.
There’s gotta be something fairly strange to the rest of the world about more Mississippians gaining the use of current technology. Many of them, for example, think every one of us is poor.
In college, I dated a girl from Grapevine, Texas whose extended family saw me as a sort of circus sideshow. I think it had to do with the fact that I was a wide-eyed Mississippian who had never walked the plains of north Texas or Oklahoma before. Also because I preferred to walk around barefoot. Nothing against shoes- I have a pair- I just enjoy the feel of grass tickling my toes. It reminds me of my days running from yard to yard in South Jackson escaping from invading armies and digging up dinosaur bones.
Anyway, I don’t mean to make those western folks sound backwards, but they were surprised to find out that I, a Mississippian, knew what ebay was. Bless their hearts.
It’s a peculiar thing being a Mississippian in the 21st century, and I’d wager many of us don’t even realize it: We have oddities and regionalisms that truly amaze and befuddle the rest of the country, but we now have all the technology necessary to blend. We now have the metaphorical lighting to give the world a better picture of ourselves, and technological windows to see the ideas that might help us transform ourselves into the Mississippi of the future.
A couple of months ago, a night crew of technicians installed hardware for a brand new, state-of-the-art Wi-Fi network at my school. Finding their handiwork the next morning caused quite a stir among the teachers on my hall, creatures of habit as we are. For my part, some of my desks were shifted around, some student projects had clearly been moved from one side of the room to another, and I had a enough ceiling fuzz sprinkled across my desk that I could have made dust angels if I were half a foot tall.
Not to mention the fall of the president from his spot on my wall. In my classroom, I have a border across the top of the walls made of various interesting pictures and photographs from magazines. I’ve got famous events, cast photos from popular movies, advertisements, celebrities, politicians… heroes of all walks, troublemakers, and artistic expressions.
Anyway, Obama was lying on my desk. His spot on the wall had been compromised in favor of a steel pole dropped from the ceiling to a shiny new connection box on the wall. William and Kate’s wedding photo had also been moved, but clearly the crew didn’t know exactly how to rearrange it all. The point I’m making is that I was totes inconvenienced by upgrades! We all are inconvenienced by them from time to time.
But it’s important for us to endure the annoyances with happy hearts. Adequate technology safeguards our students’ futures. We have to be willing not only to incorporate technology into our instruction, but to teach our students to innovate with it.
In the process of planning my personal website, it occurred to me that some people might consider it silly for an 8th grade science teacher in Mississippi to publish his thoughts on a website with his own name slapped across it. After all, these days, aren’t most eponymous websites named for famous people and experts? Shouldn’t you have to enjoy some measure of success before embracing your brand?
I just don’t think that way. If I’m to be honest, I feel downright egalitarian about the use of websites to share ideas. I believe we all should have our own homes on the web. Personal web addresses should be as common as those physical ones that get bills and birthday cards delivered to our houses. Why shouldn’t we dream for our students to learn the tools necessary to build this new type of Mississippi?
We are young, we have kinks to work out and problems to solve, but we cannot simply delay our date with the rest of the world until Mississippi has changed. We are the Magnolia State. We always will be. Let’s change perceptions of what that means, by connecting with the world now.
It’s an important change to make. If the next generation of Mississippians is going to succeed, we have to meet our students where they are, and help them connect. We have to be willing to be upfront, to say this is who we are. We may not nail it all the first time, but we want to innovate. We want to contribute. We want to change. Yes, the idea of modernized Mississippians may sound strange to outsiders, but they’ll just have to change with us.
As odd as it may sound, we’re Mississippians, we’re here to contribute, and we’re meeting our challenges with our smartphones in hand. What’s the Wi-Fi password again?