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These Kids Today
Kids today are being controlled by smartphones, and becoming enslaved by them.
— Ryuta Kawashima, Professor at the Institute of Development, Aging, and Cancer at Tohoku University
Something is not right with today's kids. You know it, and I know it.
You know it because you are seeing it in the morning and in the evening. You have a gnawing suspicion that they're not quite as physically active as they should be. Maybe they have trouble with routine social interactions. They sometimes struggle to solve life's most basic problems.
You might be thinking, I provide and do everything I can for my children at home. I wonder if something is going on at school. You don't really know what happens during the bulk of their day. That's where I come in. I do know what happens, and you're right — it's not good. I'm not going to sugarcoat the truth. What makes this warning different from others about "these kids today" is that I believe the problems many of our kids are having with their academic, social, and family lives are being caused in part by their schools, which are doing the bidding of the government and corporate America. There are, of course, many factors that cause kids to struggle with things like focus, critical thinking, problem-solving, and social interaction. I'm convinced that the largest single factor, however, is overuse of screen time, both in and out of school.
Like most parents, you're likely ambivalent about screen time for kids. You feel a little hypocritical setting limits on it for your own kids when so much of your day is spent plugged in to your phone, tablet, and laptop. You may hear commentators like social media scholar danah boyd (who does not use capital letters in her name) argue that kids today need fewer parental restrictions on their digital lives and more freedom to explore the online world and social media (she works for Microsoft Research). To you that sounds extreme, but you want your kids to be well-liked and to have the same things other kids have. You don't want to be "that parent," the only parent in the neighborhood who won't get your fourth grader a cell phone; and you don't want your child to be "that kid," the only kid in the neighborhood without one. And you like the idea of being able to keep in touch with your children, especially in case of emergencies.
However, you know the temptation to misuse a phone is a lot to put on a young person. You would prefer it if your kids had other kids actually, physically, come over to your house and do things without screens, like you and your friends used to. You know the Internet is a sewer of amusing cat videos, video games, and pornography, but it also enables communication in ways unthinkable only a few years ago. You realize that schools can use this amazing potential to help kids learn incredible new things in ways that weren't possible when you were their age. But you also realize the tremendous potential for wasted time. You know that "social media" has the potential at once to connect and isolate us. You recognize the fact that giving your child a tablet sure makes him quiet, and quiet is nice. However, part of you also misses the time in the car, before built-in DVD players, when you would play the alphabet game to pass the time. Entertaining and occupying your kids — especially during summertime — is hard work. Screen time makes it very easy, and if you allow your kids access to only educational apps and games, what could possibly be the harm? The fact that you're reading this book means that you recognize there is harm. You're right to be concerned.
When I speak to teacher and parent groups, I inevitably get a question that goes something like this: "How is this any different from when television was invented and the old people said it would rot our brains? It didn't. We're fine." That's a great question. However, saying that the advent of television and smartphones is similar since they both have screens is like saying that lightning bugs and lightning are similar because they both give off light. Especially early on, television and television shows were (and in many cases still are) events. Families and friends gathered to experience shows together. More important, televisions were in the living room, and they stayed there. These two characteristics are what make the advent of smartphones a new chapter in human history. The smartphone, tablet, or laptop is made to be used and experienced alone. Each is a table for one. Further, they go everywhere with us. We no longer have downtime, we no longer have to wonder about things, and we no longer have to be bored. Those three things sound great to someone who is not thinking very deeply about the human experience. However, downtime is necessary for the human brain; wonder is what results in human advancement, and boredom results in creativity.
Many excellent books today explain why we need downtime, wonder, and boredom and how screen time is impinging on all of those. Mind Change, by Oxford neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, explains that throughout human history the brain has changed as its environment has changed. She points out that the amount of screen time we consume today, and the way in which we consume it, constitutes profound changes in the brain's environment. Therefore the brain must be changing. These are the main questions at this point: How is the brain changing, and are those changes desirable? From two educators' perspectives, young peoples' brains are changing, and these changes are affecting their ability to learn. For years, I have seen this decline firsthand in the classroom and no longer have any doubt about it.
We Don't Always Have to Meet Kids Where They Are
The fact is that schools pushing ever more screen time on kids often say this is because educators need to adapt to the world in which students are living. However, schools don't need to cater to every behavior students indulge in. For instance, teenage smoking used to be a huge problem in America, much bigger than it is today. At many high schools in the 1970s and '80s, plumes of cigarette smoke billowed out of student restrooms, a symptom of this problem. Many students could not get through the school day without a cigarette. How did schools respond? They provided a place in the school for students to go smoke during the school day — a "student smoking court." Imagine that; everyone knew cigarettes were very bad for you, especially for kids. In spite of that, schools actually provided a place for children to smoke! Taxpayer dollars went to support teenage smoking. That actually happened. Thankfully, schools eventually realized how dreadful that was, shut down the smoking courts, and educated kids on the dangers of smoking. The result? The CDC issued a press release in 2014 saying that teen smoking was at its lowest point in decades. Lesson learned.
Rewind. Why did schools provide places for children to smoke? Because administrators thought, Students are going to smoke, so we should learn how to live with it and make the best of the situation. Sound familiar? Students are doing something that we know is not good for them, and society — schools included — is complicit in perpetrating the damage. Think of just a few of the ridiculous things you did in middle school and high school, those things that your parents and teachers told you were bad and you needed to stop. Perhaps your friends did some of these things as well. Now that you're an adult looking back, should your parents and teachers have said, "Well, if all the kids are doing it, we should just get on board?" If you're like me, the answer is a resounding no.
Meet Brett, the digiLearner
How much do you know about what goes on from the time your son or daughter leaves your home in the morning until he or she gets home in the afternoon or evening? If you're like most parents, not much. Teachers are the ones who know your child's school behavior best. And we've watched firsthand as young people have been profoundly changed by their technology, seemingly overnight. What follows is a fairly typical day in the life of a modern high school student. I will call the student Brett. He is a fictional character, but he is absolutely based in reality. He is an amalgamation of observations of students over the last several years and of stories I have heard from parents, other teachers, and students themselves, and on my observations of my own children.
Brett is sixteen years old and today is a school day. It is 6:05 AM and the alarm on his cell phone rings. He reaches under his pillow, where he keeps his cell phone at night, and automatically navigates to the alarm function to put the phone to sleep. After nine more minutes of blissful rest, the alarm sounds again. It is now 6:14 and he knows he must get out of bed. "Brett! Please get going," his mom calls from downstairs. "We have to be out the door in thirty-five minutes, and you still have to shower and eat!" With a moan, he lifts himself out of bed, grabs his phone, and checks for any messages he may have missed in the middle of the night. Brett's time of being "unplugged" from the web and social media has ended for the day. He feels a warm glow as he sees that he got two "likes" on his 1:15 AM status update, "Going to bed."
He staggers into the bathroom and turns the shower on. While he waits for the water to warm up, he takes stock of himself in the mirror. His pale skin is nearly blinding in the harsh light of the bathroom. His arms are twigs protruding from narrow shoulders. His midsection is doughy and his legs bony. Long gone are the scrapes and bruises that told the story of a child who loved to run and play outdoors.
After his shower Brett returns to his room. Before getting dressed, he checks his phone. A friend has sent him a link to a hilarious YouTube cartoon video featuring a homicidal llama, as well as a Snapchat picture of himself with a Mohawk combed into his wet hair. After watching the video, Brett pops in his earbuds and heads downstairs. He is exhausted from his late night of homework and needs his morning music to get going. As he passes by, his mother gives him a few instructions. Earbuds in, Brett hears only the words "Pop-Tart" and "bathroom." He goes into the kitchen, grabs a strawberry frosted Pop-Tart and a Capri Sun. On his way out the door, he nearly stumbles over his mom. She motions for him to remove his earbuds. "Didn't you hear me?" she asks. He replies, "Yes I heard you. I told you I can multitask. I can listen to music and still get things done. I got my Pop-Tart, and I don't have to go to the bathroom, so let's just go." She informs him that she asked him to not eat yet another Pop- Tart for breakfast and also to turn off the light in the bathroom, which he had left on. Brett shrugs, drags himself upstairs to turn off the light, and heads out the door to the car.
To an outside observer, the ride to school is silent. However, this observation misses the many things Brett is doing with his phone. He checks Twitter and finds that two of his friends are also heading to school and dreading it (#SkoolSux). He and a friend exchange two more hilarious YouTube videos involving cats. He snaps a picture of himself with his head out the window of the car, and sends it to a friend. As they enter the line for kiss 'n' ride, his mother tries fruitlessly to engage her son in conversation. She looks at him, glued to his screen, and figures that it is easier to just let him have his last few minutes of peace before a hard day at school. Kids today have it so much harder than we did, she thinks to herself. As he gets out of the car she says, "I love you, honey." Eyes still glued to the screen, Brett replies, "Love you, too." He closes the door behind him and walks into school.
Brett's mother takes a minute and watches him disappear into the sea of kids funneling through the school door. She can't help wondering what is happening inside the school. Buses, student drivers, and other harried parents are careening every which way as she navigates her way out. As she hits the highway, she turns her mental attention to a presentation she has to give later that day, and thoughts of Brett's day fade into the background.
At work, though, a nagging feeling returns. She sends Brett a quick text, asking how his day is going. Texting is her chance to enter her son's world. It's obviously not as good as a real conversation and a hug, but it's better than nothing. As she hits send, she's still wishing she knew more about what is happening at school.
I can fill her in. Let's go back to the morning drop-off.
Brett gets out of the car, without taking his eyes off the screen. "Love you, too," he says, closing the car door behind him. As he enters the building, all around him kids are scurrying to class. He does not truly see any of them. Some are also glued to their screens, while others are talking to one another. Some students are furiously finishing homework, and others are clumsily engaged in rudimentary courtship rituals as the seconds tick down before class. Brett finds his friends standing near their lockers. They are all staring into their screens. They're talking, but not to one another. They are proudly narrating what is happening in the games they are playing. Brett joins in until the warning bell rings. The party breaks up and Brett slips into his first period class, English. His teacher asks him to take out his earbuds. He silently complies.
Brett now must go into "stealth mode." This is the part of the class where many students slump in their seats with their cell phones in their laps, hidden behind their desks. This would be an excellent technique if the vacant downward stare and slight glow from the screen didn't give them away. The teacher now has a choice. She can ask Brett and others like him to put the phones away or she can rationalize her decision to ignore it. It's their education. If they'd rather play Words with Friends, then fine — at least they are building vocabulary, or, I know they'll put the phones away in a few minutes. It's still early and we'll just ease into class today. Little does she know, they stopped playing Words with Friends two years ago. They now learn important new skills by having a monkey shoot balloons. Today she chooses to rationalize, thinking, I'm tired of fighting this, and most of them are doing just fine anyway.
The teacher asks students to pass in their Hamlet papers, which are due today. The girl next to Brett nudges him and repeats what the teacher just said. Brett does not have his. He had completely forgotten it was due today. He checks the calendar on his phone. Sure enough, he had entered it, but forgot to attach an alarm reminder. Panicked, he questions the teacher about when this due date was announced. The teacher informs him that it was announced three weeks ago, at the beginning of the unit, and she reminded the class last period. That doesn't really help Brett because he spent most of last class on his phone, watching The Campaign starring Will Ferrell. It was hilarious. Two of his more studious classmates remind him that it has also been posted on Blackboard (their class website) for the last three weeks. Brett protests further, asking why the teacher had not e-mailed a reminder to everyone. She curtly informs him she sent everyone a message on the Remind app she uses for the class, which would have sent a text message directly to his phone. However, he never downloaded the program, which promises to make classroom communication easier. He thinks it's dumb. Why would he want text messages from his teacher about homework? That's creepy.
He then notices two new text messages on his phone. One is from his mom. "Nothin'," he replies to her question about how his day is going. The other is from another student in class, two desks away: "4get it dude. She a b1tch." Brett smiles to himself and cuts the protest short. Great, he thinks, just one more thing to add to the pile of work for tonight. He quickly glares into his phone, takes a selfie, adds the caption "Soooo pissed!" and sends it via Snapchat to a few friends, including the one two desks away.
Because Brett is not failing any of his classes, he next has a study hall. He can use this period in virtually any legal way he sees fit and can go anywhere in the school to do it. As he does every day, he goes into a classroom where several of his friends are. The room is packed, but eerily silent. A few students have books open and are reviewing for tests later that day. However, most students — Brett included — are on their devices. Of these students, most have their earbuds in. Brett is watching another movie he has downloaded to his phone. The movie is interrupted periodically by texts and Snaps from friends. He texts his mom back with the emoji of a smiley face licking its lips (she asked him if he was OK with pork chops for dinner). After forty-five silent minutes, the students leave wordlessly. Brett is now off to history class.
Excerpted from "Screen Schooled"
Copyright © 2018 Joe Clement and Matt Miles.
Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Authors' Note v
1 These Kids Today 1
2 The Myth of the Technology-Enhanced Superkid 15
3 Reclaiming Your Child's Ability to Think 47
4 Learning to Focus in the High-Tech World of Distraction 75
5 Escaping the Digital World of Anxiety 107
6 Reestablishing Support from Home 127
7 Revitalizing Social Interaction 145
8 Technology Is Widening-Not Closing-the Achievement Gap 169
9 The Education-Industrial Complex 187
10 Ideal Education in a Modern World 211
What People are Saying About This
“Bravo to Joe Clement and Matt Miles, two savvy and experienced teachers, for masterfully pulling back the veil of the tech-in- the-classroom hoax.”
"Clement and Miles succinctly lay out the compelling evidence against filling our classrooms with weapons of mass distraction and then tell us how to fix the damage already inflicted. This book is mandatory reading for teachers and parents alike."
"A sobering exposure of the damage wrought by constant screen exposure on developing brains. These veteran teachers refute the over–promised claims of Ed–Tech peddlers, and show us why screens undermine learning and leave kids unable to think on their own."
"An urgent wake-up call for anyone interested in how screen use in schools is damaging kids and education."
"With striking clarity, Screen Schooled reveals why an education increasingly centered around digital devices is failing our children. Two veteran teachers, Clement and Miles, expertly illuminate the need to teach kids problem solving, critical thinking, and other skills demanded in today’s economy. Get this must-read book!"