Several Catholic schools are reducing technology use in their classrooms and school buildings, citing “the human and spiritual formation of their students.”
Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, Texas, banned phone use in the school during the school day. Principal Michael Edghill, speaking to the Catholic News Agency, explained that “it takes a rightly formed person to undertake the task of human formation, which is the mission of Catholic education.”
Edghill said his biggest concern is a tendency to let technology become the main driving force of education rather than a tool of support for teachers and students. “No machine or technical tool can appropriately engage in the formation of the soul,” he said. His guiding principle is intentionality.
Jay Boren, headmaster of St. Benedict Elementary in Natick, Massachusetts, echoes Edghill’s vision of human formation, saying that dramatically reducing technology in the classroom “allows students to cultivate the ability to sustain attention, develop concentration, and appreciate silence, which are necessary dispositions to ponder truth, beauty, and goodness.”
Quite obviously, these school leaders are expressing a particular view of the purpose and pedagogy of education that is sustained and informed by a living Catholic tradition. These commitments are not insignificant to the work of learning and formation.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture designed the School Cultures and Student Formation Project to investigate the varieties of moral formation in ten different sectors of American high schools. According to Carol Ann MacGregor, lead researcher for Catholic schools in the upcoming book, The Content of Their Character made particular note of the Catholic school’s “ethos . . . and the philosophical hallmarks that made a particular sector [such as Catholic education] unique—e.g., how it conceived the nature of the child, the task of teaching and formation, the purpose of education, and the role of adult authority.”
When these philosophical and religious hallmarks shape the ethos of the school—as they have at Notre Dame—they can have significant effects for students. Edghill reports that “the unplanned side effect [of banning phones during the school day] is that the students actually talk to one another before school in the mornings now instead of just staring at their individual screens.”
Resisting the siren call of screens is no easy task for adults or students. As an alternative to banning phones, one teacher awards participation points to students who voluntarily leave their phones (off, or in airplane mode) on his desk as they enter the class. Regardless of the tactics, it takes a strong vision of the purpose of teaching and the work of formation to resist the lure of our screens.