Tech elites don’t let their little darlings use screens

A new book highlights the negative effects of social media among students, and its authors point to years of warning signs from Silicon Valley parents who strictly regulate their children’s exposure.

Research from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture shows technology use is an issue that concerns all types of parents, though many feel powerless to control it.

Educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles, authors of Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber, examine how technology giants like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs addressed screen time with their kids.

From Business Insider:

In 2007, Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. He also didn’t let his kids get cell phones until they turned 14. (Today, the average age for a child getting their first phone is 10.)

Jobs, who was the CEO of Apple until his death in 2012, revealed in a 2011 New York Times interview that he prohibited his kids from using the newly-released iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs told reporter Nick Bilton.

Clement and Miles contend Silicon Valley parents understand the addictive nature of personal devices and social media better than most because they created that world.

“It’s interesting to think that in a modern public school, where kids are being required to use an electronic devise like iPads,” they wrote, “Steve Jobs’s kids would be some of the only kids opted out.”

The desire of some Silicon Valley parents to cut back on technology is also spawning specialty low-tech schools like the Waldorf School, where teachers use chalkboards and students use pencils. At Waldorf, educators focus on character virtues rather than coding skills, Business Insider reports.

But Silicon Valley parents aren’t the only ones who want more control over their children’s time online.

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture’s “Culture of American Families” report found “parents believe media technologies’ effects on children are not good—manners, treatment of others, stilted imaginations, relaxed norms, virtual realities—but they are not sure if they can control it.”

“Although parents attempt to find ways to monitor and control these influences, the general feeling is one of defeat. Parents, importantly, seem resigned to these changes and somewhat hopeless in the face of them,” according to the report. “The extensive reach of media technologies limits parental influence, and parents feel their ability to impose limits on media technologies is beyond their reach.”

Silicon Valley parents obviously refuse to admit defeat and take actions to impose control over their children’s education and development.

EducationNext and Getting Smart offer other perspectives for parents to consider how they handle their child’s device use at school and at home.

Moral discipline is a 21st-century skill

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria thinks students in today’s world of information overload must develop “intellectual discipline” to say “no” to the lure of social media in order to “go deep” and “actually read books.”

Zakaria discussed his perspective as part of a panel on “Education in the Post-Truth World” during the 2017 World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), which drew thousands of educators from more than 100 countries to Doha, Qatar, in November.

“I say this to my kids all the time, you can graze all these headlines and tweets and blog posts you like—at the end of the day the way you develop real knowledge about a subject still remains that you have to go deep; still remains that you have to actually read books; still remains that you have to talk to experts, travel to countries,” he said.

Zakaria compared the plethora of modern technologies to his experience growing up in India in the 1970s, when there was only one black and white television channel available that nobody watched.

The situation forced Zakaria to spend much of his time reading, and that led to a promising career. But today’s youth face a much different situation that will require them to learn how to tune out to focus in and sort fact from fiction.

“If I had a supercomputer in my pocket called an iPhone that could stream all the entertainment in the world, all the TV shows, I don’t think I would’ve read that much but I don’t think I would’ve had the career that I have,” he said. “I don’t know where that takes you.

“Children are going to have to learn something I didn’t have to learn as much which is discipline, intellectual discipline—the ability to say no,” Zakaria added.

“The world my children are growing up in is exactly the opposite, an explosion of choice, an explosion of options, an explosion of opportunity.”

Knowing how to say no and using “intellectual discipline” to “actually read books” is becoming increasingly important as many teens look to social media and other questionable sites to gather information.

Quartz points out that a 2016 Stanford University study shows the majority of students from middle school through the undergraduate level access news through social media sites like Twitter and Snapchat, and most can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s propaganda.

Zakaria’s comments also echo the same argument University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter applies to character education.

“Moral discipline, in many respects, is the capacity to say ‘no’; its function, to inhibit and constrain personal appetites on behalf of a greater good. This idea of a greater good points to a second element, moral attachment,” Hunter wrote in The Death of Character. “It reflects the affirmation of our commitments to a larger community, the embrace of an ideal that attracts us, draws us, animates us, inspires us.”

“Without strong moral attachment to the good, we won’t know when to say no.”

Educators looking to develop students’ moral attachment to the good and intellectual discipline to say no can find guidance at the The Jubilee Centre’s “Teaching Character Through Subjects” page.

The series was developed in England to “create an innovative resource for building character within 14 subjects across the school curriculum.”

Parents vs. administrators on cameras in the high school bathrooms

Administrators at Colorado’s Windsor Charter Academy Early College High School are now monitoring students on surveillance cameras inside bathrooms, and parents aren’t very happy about it.

School officials frame the situation as a safety precaution, and parents are raising privacy concerns, but the issue also raises questions about the school’s ability to instill character and responsibility in students.

Parents recently learned that officials at the high school installed four cameras in student bathrooms—two in men’s rooms and two in women’s rooms—as part of a new design that also includes floor-to-ceiling stalls, the Greeley Tribune reports.

“I was floored,” parent Trevor Garrett said.

Garrett and his wife Annie, along with another parent, confronted school officials about the new cameras in October, and demanded to know why parents were not informed. Annie said her daughters contend some girls change in the bathrooms and have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” phrasing used by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Rebecca Teeples, executive director of Windsor Charter Academy Schools, told the news site the cameras, which allegedly focus only on the bathroom wash stations, were included in a redesign of the school, which opened this year.

She confirmed that academy officials did not inform parents about the change, but noted that signs about the increased surveillance went up days before the cameras. Windsor Charter Academy attorney Bill Bethke argued that the wash stations are technically a public space, and insisted the new cameras and floor-to-ceiling stalls are designed to improve privacy.

“I would urge people to consider that the charter school is trying to improve the protection of privacy, but in doing that drawing a line between the private space and the public space that is new and that people will learn to use appropriately,” he told the Tribune.

Teeples added that the cameras are part of the school’s focus on monitoring all public spaces on campus to ensure students are safe.

“Every decision we make, we make to make sure our students are safe as possible in our school,” she said.

The Garretts, meanwhile, have vowed to pursue a lawsuit if necessary to force school officials to remove the cameras.

While much of the debate about the cameras centers on privacy, it also raises serious questions about responsibility and character.

How have we arrived at a place where we can’t trust students to use the bathroom?

In her book Adult Supervision Required, Markella Rutherford observed that, “Parents have been told [since the 1980s] that children and adolescents must be adequately supervised at all times, which has had particularly dramatic effects on how children spend their free time and engage in peer relationships. The need for constant adult supervision has also constrained children’s opportunities to demonstrate meaningful responsibility and be recognized for their independent contributions. By stressing parents’ supervisory role, the boundary line between adult and child is reinforced, and childhood is constructed as a period of dependence, irresponsibility, and incompetence.”

The ultimate goal is to cultivate moral autonomy in students, so they can make responsible decisions on their own and be held accountable for their actions.

Resources on “good sense” from the Jubilee Centre help educators assist students in cultivating a moral compass that helps them make good decisions.

Screen time: Parents worry, educators debate

How much screen time in a school is too much? Or is that the wrong question to ask?

Two friends of CultureFeed debate the issue at EdNext.

Tom Vander Ark believes the real question is not whether students are spending too much time in front of screens, but whether “students [are] engaged in powerful learning experiences and, whenever possible, given voice and choice in what, how, and when they learn? Digital technology can powerfully facilitate this process, if thoughtful adults deploy it wisely. Otherwise, it can be mind-numbing, or worse.”

Co-founder of and Learn Capital, Vander Ark argues that while “the performance of digital technology in the classroom proved disappointing early on . . .”, “ . . . the emerging generation of educational technology has the power to accelerate learning productivity in ways we can scarcely imagine. If we can ensure that students are connected to it through the help of teachers, a natural balance between online and offline experiences will develop.”

He does acknowledge that there must be some “appropriate limits.” “Technology,” he observes, “is an amplifier.” It can make good things better, or bad things worse. “The effective use of ed-tech requires thoughtful management and oversight by teachers and parents. Caring adults also need to help young people develop positive self-regulation habits.”

Daniel Scoggin, of the Great Hearts Academies, takes a very different perspective. Co-founder of a system of charter schools dedicated to teaching the classical liberal arts, Scoggin is skeptical of those educators who view “ed-tech as a ‘silver bullet’,” and therefore “indiscriminately toss it in front of today’s so-called digital natives, assuming that more gadgets equal more learning. The opposite may be true. According to a recent Education Week analysis of data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the shares of 4th- and 8th-grade students using computers for math instruction grew rapidly from 2009 to 2015. But the increased access has not led to ‘better’ use . . . Instead, rote activities such as math drills and practice now occur more frequently, and ‘the gap between active and passive use has grown over time.’”

“As we sober up from the tech-infused party of the past 20 years,” he continues, “we should think about what should come first in our schools: shaping not just our students’ ability to persevere and solve difficult problems but also their character—their empathic connection with others, their capacity to see our shared humanity, and their ability to problem solve with others for a common good. I believe this is the ultimate project of schooling in our democracy, and the misapplication of ed-tech will put it at risk. In a time of increasing political and economic polarization, we need conversation, empathy, and character woven into our public life.”

Parents are most worried about managing, overseeing, or the effects of technology, according to “The Culture of American Families” report from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Specifically, the study found that “parents believe media technologies’ effects on children are not good—manners, treatment of others, stilted imaginations, relaxed norms, virtual realities—but they are not sure if they can control it.” This is because “there is no inherited body of knowledge upon which they can draw. Although parents attempt to find ways to monitor and control these influences, the general feeling is one of defeat. Parents, importantly, seem resigned to these changes and somewhat hopeless in the face of them. The extensive reach of media technologies limits parental influence, and parents feel their ability to impose limits on media technologies is beyond their reach.”

As we consider the extraordinarily important issue of technology in the classroom, we must remember the use of technology in homes. In effect, children are now being exposed every day not only to the cultures of their family and their school (as well as others), but also to an all pervasive, largely unseen, technologically mediated third culture. The intersection of those cultures is one of the crucibles where the content of our children’s character is forged.

“Robot apocalypse” could affect character education

A series of reports by Education Week is highlighting how automation and a possible “robot apocalypse” could impact the way schools educate students for the future, and how the outcome of many of the moral dilemmas that await the next generation will depend on how well schools instill good character.

The education site suggests that by the time today’s sixth graders are in the workforce, robots will have likely replaced many of the working and middle class jobs available today. Top economists and technology experts offer a wide range of predictions for the future, from a full-blown robot revolution to a slow integration of new technologies in a variety of sectors, and now schools are grappling with how to prepare students for the uncertain.

“What skills will today’s students need? Will the jobs available now still be around in 2030? Should every kid learn to code? What about apprenticeships, career-and-technical education, and ‘lifelong learning?’” Education Week questions. “Just as importantly, how can schools prepare children to participate in the political, civic, and moral debates stirred up by technology-driven changes?”

Futurists like Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, predict many routine jobs could soon be gone, such as paralegals, radiologists, line cooks, truck drivers, tax preparers, office assistants and others.

Such “predictions tend to overgeneralize from a breakthrough at one level of engineering to quote another level of sophistication,” wrote Mike Rose in The Hedgehog Review, and tend to ignore history showing that new technologies often “draw on existing knowledge and skills, even as it might alter them.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Paul Osterman, who ran the state’s workforce training programs, told Education Week that people will likely adapt with technology. And while some jobs will be lost, people will create new opportunities and new occupations in ways similar to the country’s transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy a century ago.

Either way, most agree students will need new skills for an unpredictable future, and will likely need a foundation in math and science, as well as other, uniquely human abilities.

“To maintain their edge, workers would also need to focus on cultivating the human qualities that robots still lack, such as creativity, empathy and abstract thinking,” Education Week reports. “And because most jobs could constantly evolve, today’s students could eventually face a make-or-break question: Can you adapt?”

That question will guide the flourishing of students after they graduate, and the answer could rest with how well schools instill good character in the classroom.

“ … Consider how deeply robots, algorithms, and digital agents are being woven into important aspects of our lives, from loan applications to dating to criminal sentencing. Will tomorrow’s citizens be thoughtful and vigilant in deciding how much control they’re willing to give to technology? Will they be able to recognize and challenge automated decision-making systems that replicate existing racial, gender, and other biases?” Education Week questions. “For all the attention to technology, the answer may have more to do with our laws, policies, and values.”

Many believe it’s especially critical for educators to help students reflect on the wise use of technology as part of a broader character formation lesson. Such lessons require intention and planning beginning with resources about character, technology, and making decisions based on good sense.