Left to Their Own Devices

You may have seen this image, or one like it.


I wouldn’t be surprised if this sort of policy is fairly widespread and popular—among adults, that is. Yet while I understand from experience the need in conventional schools to maintain order (actually, I’d argue it’s a core value), I have to confess that this makes me more than a little uneasy.

To explain why, let me tell you a story from this past school year. I was serving on the Judicial Committee (the body that hears complaints of alleged rule violations)—not chairing, but rather as the designated staff member. (At Clearview, two students and one staff member serve on each JC.) During a break between cases, I got on my iPad. I don’t remember why, but really, it’s quite beside the point whether or not it was for a legitimate, adult/work-related reason.

The real point is that when it came time for JC to resume, the student chairing the meeting asked me to put my device away. So I did. The end.

This story is so ordinary against the backdrop of a  Sudbury school day, I almost didn’t see the post within it. Think about that: I’m so accustomed to being at schools where equality and respect regardless of age are simply assumed, only later did it strike me this would be whoppingly abnormal in a “normal” school. A student asking a teacher to put away his device so the “class” could resume? Can you even imagine such a thing (at least, where it wasn’t a joke or an act of defiance)?

It reminds me of this other mainstream schooling phenomenon I’ve heard of, BYOD Day (where the “D” stands for “Device”). I don’t even know where to begin with this one. img_1002THE emerging technology—I don’t mean phones or tablets specifically, but mobile, social tools in general, ubiquitous connectivity—and we, the wise and benevolent adults, dole out access to it in bits and pieces, a reward for good behavior or a chance to momentarily unwind from the otherwise relentless demands we make upon students (for their own good, of course)? Are you kidding me?

I’m not sure what bothers me more about these arbitrary restrictions on student access to technology: Is it the unilateral, authoritarian, condescending nature of such policies? Could it be the assumption that, free of such regulation, young people (or older people, for that matter) will almost certainly use technology to waste time? Either way, there is a blatant lack of trust and a suspicion, if not fear, of new technologies that should have no place in our schools.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting we leave our kids in a room with the latest gadgets and reliable wi-fi and come back in twelve years to see the amazing results. Remember, one of the main features of these devices, of apps and games, is that they are social. I’ve seen countless times over the years how people come together to watch each other play, to give tips and criticisms of each other’s performances, and to join multiplayer, virtual worlds where they interact and pursue all manner of quests. At Sudbury schools like Clearview, people of all ages (yes, even adults) see what’s out there, what people enjoy, and what we all think about that.

In these schools grounded in freedom, respect, and responsibility for all, I’ve seen for myself how people naturally encounter, play with, and master the tools of their culture, along with the necessary skills for successfully navigating their personal and social landscapes. The truth is, we don’t need to force young people into little boxes where their time, attention, and actions must be carefully circumscribed.

We don’t need to technology-shame them: in fact, allowing these digital natives ample room to learn the tools of their culture puts them in the best possible position for future success. They learn both familiarity with the technologies and a sense of how to use their to their benefit, as opposed to simply blowing off steam from an oppressive work day—a pattern I’d prefer not to reinforce.

Yes, it takes effort to build such respectful, responsible cultures, but in my experience, it’s far less effort than that required to keep kids’ natural drives in check. Less work, better results. Or we could continue with policies that restrict and limit and postpone their encounters with the tools of their future. I suppose that’s a choice too.

1 Comment

Filed under Sudbury

One response to “Left to Their Own Devices

  1. Beautiful. Hope you write more soon. Miss your words.

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