My recent travels took me, among other places, to Boston, where I renewed my dedication to the founding principles of our country.
Since I learned about them in school, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” have come to mean different things. There is even a question of whether an adult’s right to end his or her life is an enforceable act.
One of the news stories that caught my eye was the decision by the administration of Quinn Middle School in Hudson, Mass., to ban the use of electronic devices by kids during lunches and recess. The object, according to a statement, is to “foster social skills.”
Many years ago, some schools in the N-MUSD banned pogs and Pokemon cards, not because they wanted to foster social skills but because they were becoming a distraction. What the misguided administrations did not realize at the time was that trading pogs and Pokemon cards was fostering social skills.
Now, the folks at Quinn are banning something they believe is keeping kids from communicating and socializing. In reality, it’s just another silly rule made up by adults who do not understand that their idea of socializing is lost among kids these days.
You see them all the time: Young adults, teens, and sometimes pre-teens, in a group, each one on a separate electronic device. They’re texting, surfing, and checking. In 2015, this is how they communicate; how they socialize.. It’s not that kids don’t know how to talk, they just don’t want to.
This ridiculous ban is also contradictory. On the one hand, education is increasingly reliant on electronic devices to teach students. Event the concept of using a pencil and paper is disappearing. (Which leads to another question about teaching penmanship.) On the other hand, we don’t want kids to use similar devices to communicate and socialize in the way to which they are accustomed. Is the ban bad? Yes, because whether kids socialize is none of a school’s business. If academic performance is slipping because kids are texting at lunchtime, that’s another story. But I’ll bet the folks at Quinn did not rely on data, they just went with their gut, which is the reason for most decision-making.
The ban was not created to increase academic performance, it was created to fulfill some older person’s idea of what the perfect school looks like: Kids at lunchtime playing four square or tag, or using a pencil and a piece of paper to play tic-tac-toe or “hangman.” Some of these adults may even be longing for the good old days of trading pogs.
Sorry, but those days are over. At a waiting area in Logan International Airport in Boston two days ago, I saw two fathers of approximately the same age with babies approximately the same age. The setup was remarkable: The dads were facing each other about 30 feet apart. I was seated in the middle. One dad was playing with his baby, bouncing him or her up and down and making silly faces. The other dad had his baby cradled in his left arm while he checked his messages on his phone with his right hand.
Between the two, is there a more beneficial parenting style? Most readers would say the bouncing dad is doing a better job, but that’s an emotional reaction. The truth is that there are many things we don’t know about each situation and we’ll never know which kid, or neither or both, turns out to be more successful for success is relative.
The education establishment knows only one way to deal with challenges such as pogs, cell phones, prom drafts, and performing controversial plays such as “Rent.” Instead of studying an issue, looking at all aspects of the consequences, and using a best practices approach, they just ban anything that does not fit within their idea of what kids should be doing in school.
If banning electronic devices at lunchtime is going to improve social skills, the best thing the administration at Quinn can do is set an example and stop their own reliance on the same devices. But connecting the dots – that is, understanding that kids are using these devices because they are mimicking adults and have been enabled by adults – is a near impossibility.
Perfect order in school is the true goal of the ban at Quinn. But perfection is impossible, and like the pursuit of happiness, socializing in 2015 means different things to different people.