Our school’s journey into the 21st Century has come in fits and starts over the years. When I first arrived here thirteen years ago it seemed like EVERYTHING was being filtered. At the time, RSS feed readers (pre-Google Reader) were the technology of the day and I had the thought that teaching students in our journalism courses to flesh out story ideas by subscribing to RSS feeds in Bloglines would be a great thing to do! Long story short, our filters at the time filtered anything with the word “blog” in the name of the website, the title of the page, or the domain name. Over time we managed to convince people that students could be better served in a more open information technology environment and to our school’s credit our level of filtering was adjusted to the point that I honestly, cannot remember a time when access to content students needed has been hampered.
Once the filtering issue was addressed we put a course management system in place, initially with Moodle and now with Canvas by Instructure. We began allowing the use of cell phone on campus during school hours, and during our migration to Canvas two years ago, we also became a Google Apps for Education site in anticipation of the launch of our 1:1 bring your own laptop initiative that launched this year with our incoming class of seventh graders.
I share this history simply to put the rest of this into context. Disruptive change does not really so much describe the disruption of the culture of INSTITUTION as much as it describes the disruption of the lives and experiences and feelings of the living breathing human beings that come here every day to teach and learn and play and live and BE together. I remember that most of the time (which means that I forget to remember that some of the time …). Because I have remembered to remember that wave of disruptive influences we have introduced to our school this year has been significant, I have tried really, really hard to overlook this sign.
For the longest time, I wasn’t able to get my head around just what it is about this particular sign that doesn’t feel right. I very much like and respect the person who posted it and very honestly, I agree wholeheartedly that there is a need to develop some thoughtful cultural norms where our middle schoolers can learn that staring at a laptop or phone screen 100% of the time is not a good thing. My epiphany about the sign came after I watched a teacher very pointedly tell a student, “Put your phone away! Talk to somebody! You’re being antisocial!” She was doing her job, but she is also somebody who DOES NOT LIKE TECHNOLOGY. She is a voracious reader, but only if it is in the form of a printed book. What bothered me about the interaction is that this teacher NEVER would have told the same child, “Put that novel away! Talk to somebody! You’re being antisocial!” The unfair judgment that a book is automatically healthy, but a phone or laptop is automatically unhealthy, I find, inherently unjust.
I guess, an “electronics free zone” is one thing, but the “Have a conversation, instead …” part is, in my opinion, what gives the message here the wrong context.
Schools in the US today are VERY EXTROVERTED places. We sit in circles so we can see and talk to each other. We in collaborative groups to do our projects. We play on teams. We require classes in debate or public speaking. We have unquiet libraries because “it promotes community and working together.” We have gang offices for teachers to promote cross-team collaboration … Auuuggghhh!!! … As a librarian who is an introvert, I am unbelievably grateful that I have one of the most private office spaces on campus. I don’t actually spend a huge amount of time in my office, but I NEED quiet breaks to recharge myself for my interactions with our extroverted culture. If I were a 12 year old seventh grader, where could I go? I really suspect that 12 year old me would be on my phone during my free period just to be able to “get away” into my phone for just a few minutes during my day.
What’s so wrong with that?