This past Memorial Day, I attended an outside concert with some friends here in Kansas City on the lawn of the National World War I Museum. It was wonderfully patriotic and well done. One of the highlights was when some injured soldiers from the Wounded Warrior Project sang a moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallejuhah”.
Then came fireworks.
Imagine my bewilderment when I looked over and saw a young boy (around 12 years old) playing a video game on an ipad. I wanted to cup my hands around my mouth and call out, “YOU’RE AT A FIREWORKS SHOW. Watch the fireworks!”
Aside from the seeming evidence that screen-stuff (real technical wording here) is addictive and is robbing people from real experiences these days, there are other reasons why I am a little wary of screen time. Especially for children.
Studies have shown that children read more when they have access to interesting books.
Sounds pretty obvious.
Did you know that there’s a strong correlation between the physical number of books in a classroom and the success of student reading? That fact alone made me raid library giveaways and welcome book donations with open arms (given that the books aren’t full of junk).
If you are interested in this topic, you may enjoy reading this article I found. Though the article itself is dated, the content, I believe, still holds weight.
While technology in the classroom is faddish, there are many well-researched, good arguments that it’s BOOKS we need to invest in when it comes to education.
The dean of the classical school I taught at in Colorado gave me a copy of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, and it opened my eyes.
One tidbit of information that I found interesting is the recent discovery that Silicon Valley CEOs send their children to computer-free schools. Yes. It is true. Let that sink in.
“Why is this?”, I asked myself. Could it be because these Silicon Valley CEOs best understand the effects of computers on children’s brains?
Now, do know that I’m not anti-computers nor anti-internet (I am typing this on my blog), and Carr himself does not go on a crusade for everyone to unplug and put their cultural heads in the sand. As a writer by trade, he spends plenty of time on his computer and readily admits to emailing, blogging, scanning articles, facebooking, etc.
He also admits to experiencing both positive and negative brain-shaping effects of these activities.
Lest I get on a judgmental high horse, I admit that I too feel the effects of my technology use.
It resonated with me, this book. When I spend too much time surfing the web – a little Pinterest here, a little MSN news there, (with, I admit, the occasional click on “Entertainment News” to see what the stars wore on the red carpet), a little facebook here, a little online Target browsing there – I can almost feel my brain changing as my eyes bounce around the screen, scanning for information I’m looking for, my finger quickly clicking to minimize ads or to open a new window.
I feel the effects when I pick up a book right after screen time and my eyes need to adjust to not getting my information through pixels, or when I have to reread the page 3 times because I realize that I haven’t been paying attention to the words (words that are staying put), or when I walk away with a general impression of what I have read, instead of a clear remembrance of the words, the phrases, the sentences that the author deliberately chose to use.
Here’s a quick summary of The Shallows taken straight from amazon.com for those who would rather scan the gist instead of read the book (no shame in that, but pun intended). I even highlighted parts for ease of scanning, because that’s what I might do. See? My brain has changed. Oy.
“Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?
Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind”—from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer—Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.
Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic—a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption—and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes—Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive—even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.
Some fellow teachers and I have been taught to recommend no more than 1 hour of screen time a day for children. Overuse of screen time is thought to affect their sleep and cut into their active and creative play time that is critical to brain development. And children’s brains are still developing well into their teens. I find this fascinating.
I’m no expert on the human brain. Matt just finished his Neuro block in med school, and, from what I gather, “complicated” doesn’t even begin to describe the complexities of the human brain that God designed. (Sheesh – neurologists even say that there is still so much we have yet to discover about the brain). Needless to say, I don’t claim to understand all the science behind the above claims, or to know if the science is 100% accurate, but, as a teacher, I feel it my duty to at least present the possible findings, especially to parents who inquire my opinion (though, I would be mortified to come across as a “know-it-all”). I’m ever-learning and see myself as simply one in a community of learners.
So, a few years ago, when a mom of one my first graders asked me my thoughts on whether or not she should buy a Kindle for her 7 year-old son for Christmas to promote reading, I cautiously and honestly proceeded to tell her what I had read about screens potentially adversely affecting children’s vision and the way they process information. If, in fact, neural pathways are wired by how we get our information, then I hesitate to promote e-books for children.
I chose to leave out my personal opinion that a 7-year old owning an expensive piece of equipment like a Kindle just doesn’t sit well with me. I just presented her with some possible findings, and let her read up on it and decide for herself. She came back and told me that she ended up not buying the Kindle for him. For what it’s worth, in the classroom, I saw no detrimental effects of this decision on the boy’s learning. But I did see him take off as a reader, learning from real, genuine, page-filled, paper books.
Suffice it to say – in the age of video games and increased computer lessons for younger and younger children, I argue for less screen time and more books.
And by books, I mean worthy books. I see plenty of cute children’s books that lack substance, or popular books that inadvertently promote bad ideas (ie. the main character is sassy or “humorously” devious). But that’s another conversation.