A plea to teachers: Please put the screens away

Last year my son, then a third grader, became a shadow of his former self.

He cried at night. He could barely wake up in the morning. He smiled less. He dragged his feet when he walked and when he played basketball. It was a shocking contrast to his usual self.

My husband calls this son our all-American boy. He earns good grades, plays three sports, obeys quickly, and acts as family peacemaker. So when I saw his true essence draining away, it wasn’t simply concerning. It was scary.

We started asking questions and found out he hated school. This was new. This was the kid who read nonfiction for fun and cruised through 500-page books with relish. But at school, when his work was done, his teacher handed him a tablet and told him to do math. We concluded that he was spending an average of two hours a day teaching himself with technology—no interaction with other kids or the teacher. Just him and a screen.

A meeting with the principal cut this down substantially, and our boy perked up. Summer rolled around, and by August he was back to his former self. We were and are hopeful about this school year.

So it was not a happy day when my three elementary-aged kids brought home a flyer for this year’s fundraiser. The PTO was keeping it simple, asking for donations instead of peddling cookie dough or popcorn bins. And all the money was going to a great cause, the letter said: Buying two classroom sets of Chromebooks.

About the same time the flyer came home, I ran across this article from The New York Times. The gist was this: Affluent parts of the country have had plenty of technology in their kids’ classrooms for years, and parents are now demanding that it be reduced or eliminated altogether. They’ve seen the results—its addictive nature and the detriment it can be to communication and behavior—and they’re done. Meanwhile, middle- and lower-class communities are clamoring to clog schools with screens. Rather than taking cues from those who’ve been there, they simply want what they haven’t had.

Never mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting healthy, consistent limits on screen time for school-aged children (and only one hour for children two to five). Never mind that our kids already get enough screen time outside school. Never mind that good teaching never required a computer anyway.

I try to keep things optimistic when I write—there’s enough bad in the world anyway. But we’re reaching an all-time low in education. When we think computers can teach better than real-life teachers, we’re in trouble. When we assume computers will do the hard work of differentiating instruction for varying student abilities, we’re turning over too much control to something without a heart and without reasoning ability. Also, it’s worth mentioning that many struggling students are kinesthetic learners, and working with a screen isn’t ideal for them.

The fallout is that our kids’ imagination and zest for life are dying. Their hunger for learning and their curiosity are stifled. Their ability to communicate with others and to have natural, free-flowing conversations is compromised.

If I was scared before, I’m terrified now. •

One thought

  1. I couldn’t agree more. At my son’s previous school (in Idaho) I volunteered in the classroom and found the teachers used computers as babysitters more than anything (“you guys go work on the computers while I do reading group with the other children.”). Just as bad, the “educational” programs were usually glorified, corny video games. Needless to say, when folks were cheering the Idaho governing bodies for allocating funds for more computer labs and classroom iPads, I was cringing. I’d love to see funding go towards increasing teacher salaries and classroom aids rather than shoving more screens into the classroom and using that as a false marker of educational quality.


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