Goodreads: Screen Schooled
Source: Shelf Awareness giveaway
Publication Date: October 1, 2017
As two veteran teachers who have taught thousands of students, Joe Clement and Matt Miles have seen firsthand how damaging technology overuse and misuse has been to our students. Rather than becoming better problem solvers, kids look to Google to answer their questions for them. Rather than deepening students’ intellectual curiosity, educational technology is too often cumbersome and distracting, causing needless frustration and greatly extending homework time. Rather than becoming the great equalizer, electronic devices are widening the achievement gap. On a mission to educate and empower parents, Clement and Miles provide many real-world examples and cite multiple studies showing how technology use has created a wide range of cognitive and social deficits in our young people. They lift the veil on what’s really going on at school: teachers who are powerless to curb cell phone distractions; zoned-out kids who act helpless and are unfocused, unprepared, and antisocial; administrators who are too-easily swayed by the pro-tech “science” sponsored by corporate technology purveyors. They provide action steps parents can take to demand change and make a compelling case for simpler, smarter, more effective forms of teaching and learning.
Screen Schooled takes an honest look at how technology is used at schools (and for schoolwork at home) and takes the controversial view that more tech is not better, that “technology overuse is making our kids dumber.”
Although there are references to a number of scientific studies, these references are often brief and unmarked by any sort of superscript number directing the reader to find out more (all bibliographic information is gathered in the back of the book, not well-labelled). This means that the book comes across as largely anecdotal—which makes for engaging reading, but is not necessarily the most convincing approach.
However, I think the purpose of the book is important here. Having spent a few years teaching, I actually agree with much of what the authors are saying about technology frequently being more of a burden/distraction for students than a help and the authors’ pleas that technology should be used where it actually accomplishes something that a simpler approach cannot. Because I already agree with many of their points and have lived anecdotes similar to the ones they present, I want more data and a rigorous scientific approach. But the book is not really geared towards readers like me. It’s aimed at parents—particularly the type of parents who believe, in part because they have been told over and over again, that technology is good for their children, that it makes them smarter, that today’s youth think in profoundly digital ways that older generations just cannot understand.
For example: One of the stories in the book is about a student who spends the majority of his school day reading an e-book on an e-reader, listening to a second book through headphones, while sitting in class listening to the teacher’s lesson. When the teacher runs into this student’s parents at Back to School Night and tentatively brings up that the student is perpetually plugged in, the parents are not concerned. Rather, they are impressed. They gush about how brilliant their son is, that it’s so amazing that he can read two books at once and pay attention in class. He’s a technological genius, a marvelous multitasker! They are so proud! Now, the reality is that the student is not doing any of these three things well. He doesn’t know what’s happening in either of the two books he’s supposedly reading, and he certainly has no idea what’s going on in his classes. His grades begin to reflect this. But he—and his parents—are so convinced that he is good at doing all these three things at once that it is difficult for them to make the connection between his staring at a screen during class, with headphones in, and his less-than-impressive transcript.
These are the parents/readers the authors want to reach, the people who need such anecdotes to serve as a wake-up call that their son or daughter may be missing out on school, learning, or meaningful social interaction because they are always looking at a screen. The book addresses a wide variety of problems (again, with the data to back it up, though it can get lost in the storytelling), ranging from Internet addition to social anxiety to depression to the inability to focus to students’ refusal to learn anything if it isn’t hidden in an “edutainment” game.
Of course, some problems with students are not new—they’re just showing up in a new form because of technology. In one section the authors bemoan that supposed digital natives are not actually that good with technology. (Studies show that young people spend about nine hours per day online—specifically doing things that are not their homework or studying—and that most of this time is spent in passive entertainment like checking social media or watching videos or playing games. The reality is that most digital natives are not sitting around learning how to code or engaging in content creation like running their own website or Youtube channel.) The result? The authors have students who, after five minutes of attempted “research” on the Internet come up and tell them things like “There’s no information about the Crusades/the abortion debate/Martin Luther King, Jr. online, so I can’t do this research paper. I’ll be over there playing Candy Crush.” I’ve had students tell me similar things, so I believe these anecdotes. But are these lack of research skills (and tenacity) caused by technology? Probably not.
I wasn’t teaching thirty years ago, but I can still imagine a student going to the public library, taking a three minute walk around, and coming back to their teacher saying, “There are no books that have been written on the American Civil War. I can’t do the research paper you assigned.” If the point is that tools like Google and academic databases are making students stupider, I would have to disagree. But if the point is that, whatever the tools we use to research, schools still need to teach students actual research skills (and that it might take more than three minutes to get an answer), the authors are onto something. We can’t just say, “Well, students are digital natives. They know how to find information,” and let them run loose without any actual instruction or guidance.
Screen Schooled is not a perfect book, but it’s an interesting one, and I think it’s jump-starting an important conversation schools, parents, and even students need to be having about how we use technology and how much we use technology. (And I do appreciate that the authors recognize that this isn’t a “young whippersnappers are always glued to their phones” problem; adults often model tech-obsessed behavior their children copy.) The idea is to use technology thoughtfully because it’s actually accomplishing something you cannot achieve without pulling out your phone or iPad. This book is a great resource for teachers, school boards, and parents to begin thinking about tough questions or problems they may be having that they might not have immediately connected to technology.
- Does your child have “too much” homework? Or is he/she spending “four hours” doing math homework that’s actually about 15 min. doing homework and 3 hrs. 45 min. checking social media or watching Netflix “in the background?”
- Is your child multitasking? Or actually distracted by texting or playing games while in class?
- Is the online textbook accessible and cost-friendly? Or does it glitch, take forever to log-in, and encourage students to wander off to other sites on the Internet?
- Is your child connecting with friends on social media? Or dangerously judging his/her self-worth by how many likes that latest selfie got?
Technology isn’t bad. I don’t think that, and the authors of this book don’t think that. But they do raise some very good questions more of us ought to be asking.