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Education researchers struggle with the fact that students arrive at school already shaped by their unequal childhoods. Would we see greater gains among less privileged students if they had a more level playing field?

I wrestle with these questions in Digital Divisions: How Schools Create Inequality in the Tech Era (University of Chicago Press, August 2020) by studying digital technology use at three middle schools. In the contemporary moment, kids’ digital skills appear in the form of their digital play with peers, like through social media use, video gaming, and creating online content. Drawing on six hundred hours of observation and over one hundred interviews with teachers, administrators, and students, Digital Divisions documents how teachers treat these very similar digital skills differently by school demographic. The book updates class-focused theories of cultural inequality by showing how racism and school organizational culture determine whether students’ digital skills can help them get ahead in class.


“Theoretically sophisticated, superbly written, and effectively argued, Digital Divisions shines a bright light on one of the most vexing problems of our time. A must read.”

Roberto G. Gonzales, Professor of Education, Harvard University

“This is a critical book for educators, educational scholars, and those concerned with democratizing access to technology. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, Digital Divisions captures the complicated reality of how race and class dynamics shape children’s access to the full benefits of our digital reality.”

Amanda E. Lewis, LAS Distinguished Professor, African American Studies and Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago

Digital Divisions reveals the racialized and classed dimensions of the digital divide that can’t be fixed by simply putting devices in the hands of all students. In an analysis that is reminiscent of Jean Anyon’s seminal work on social class and school knowledge, Rafalow highlights the way school cultures and teachers’ raced and classed expectations contribute to the reproduction of inequality and the digital divide.”

Stacey J. Lee, Frederick Erickson WARF Professor of Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Read more book reviews here.

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