A recent conversation with someone I will call “Pat” – not his or her real name –  left me disappointed and disheartened.

Pat is roughly my age and is heavily invested in the education system and has broad experience dealing with issues in and out of classrooms.

We started by discussing the changes in behavior and communication among younger people – I believe I lumped them into the category of “millennials” – and what it means for those of us who remember the days before smartphones.

I was an early adopter to the original cell phone concept. I got my first phone in 1993 – an analog version lovingly referred to as “the brick” because that approximated its size. You’ve seen them before. If not, imagine an old war movie in which the Army medic in the field is phoning for a chopper to evacuate the wounded. The phone he used was about the size of the brick.

That was not only a great phone, it was a great concept. I had just started my import business and needed to go out and drum up customers. The cell phone allowed me to make sales calls and take inquiries while I was on the road.

I thought my monthly phone bill was a bargain at $350.

The point of the cell phone story is to illustrate that I am not a Luddite. I loved my cell phones – all of them – and love my smartphone.

It is common these days to see young people at a table in a restaurant all working their phones. Pat and I shared some wonder at that and then talked about the decline in direct human communication as a result. We see young parents pushing a stroller with one hand and texting with the other. I tried to inject some historical perspective by pointing out that decades ago during New York City summers, adult used to sit outside on the stoops (stairs) and talk to each other. Kids would often play in the street in front of them.

All that changed with the invention of air conditioning.

Our society is no longer at the cusp of a new direction in human communication. We have arrived and we are witnessing how it will be for a very long time. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, the way younger people communicate today will be the way they will be communicating from now on. If anything, it will be even more distant.

But is it really distant? Is it fair to pin that label on the development of a communications process that may be no more evolutionary than the telegraph or telephone?

It doesn’t really matter what we think. The point I tried to make to Pat – unsuccessfully, I believe – that the good old days of talking and voice conversation and voice discussions are on the decline. Eventually, those days will be gone forever. Instead, texting or some other form of non-verbal communication will replace what humans have been doing for thousands of years. Oh, not completely, but the change will be dramatic.

We’re already well on the way. I text my two kids far more than I speak to them. If I have an issue or a question for an organization while I am online, I’d much rather engage live chat or e-mail than speak to someone.

Think of it this way: The five-year-old who is entering kindergarten next fall will have been raised by parents who had no second thoughts about openly using their smartphones and computers around that child. That kid grew up with the technology. And in 20 years, when that kid has his or her own children, the exposure will be even more intense. Kids will be taught by teachers who don’t know from the old ways.

Let’s call that five-year-old “Chris.” Next fall, millions of Chrises is going to go to kindergartens across the country and many of them will be communicated to in ways that are foreign to them. Someone – a teacher – standing up and talking to them for an extended period? Hmmm…

Doesn’t matter whether you or I or anyone thinks that this is terrible: This is the way it is and the way it will be. My disheartening came about when I realized that Pat had not yet come to grips with this fundamental concept and that if Pat is typical of the older folks in education, our children are suffering as a result.

The point is this: Education needs to adapt to Chris but instead I see education still trying to make Chris adapt to the existing learning model.

This approach was supported in a recent TED Talk I watched. The link sent to me showed a fellow discussing a similar subject and when he mentioned a certain school that had banned smartphones from the campus, there was robust applause.

Why were those people clapping? Because they were older and had memories of days gone by and how wonderful it was to have a real conversation.  Some of them may even have felt sorry for the kids these days who will never know what that’s like. In the case of that school, they were determined to force students to bend to their will, not understanding that they were contributing to student confusion, dissatisfaction, and alienation: As soon as that kid gets out of school, he’s whipping out his phone and going at it until bedtime.

Banning smartphones is not the answer. (Didn’t we learn that with bans on pogs, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh?)

The answer is to adapt. Now.

The Schedule

Tomorrow night, the district is hosting an information night at the Methodist Church in Mesa Verde. Speakers include principals from Estancia zone schools and at least two school board members.

If you go, don’t expect anyone to directly address the challenges at these schools or present anything negative. No one will address the reasons why 63% of the students at Adams El failed to meet the state standards for math last year (Link to that stat: http://caaspp.edsource.org/sbac/adams-elementary-30665976029227). You are most likely to hear only of the wonderful, exciting things going on at each campus.

No one will address the issue of families declining to send their kids to these schools. Yeah, I get it: This meeting is held to try to lure them back. But this isn’t the way to do it. That’s a long, hard road and I don’t see anyone in this administration up to the task of creating a long-term strategic plan to achieve the goal. Everything to this point has been tactical: A new principal, a new program, etc.

Clearly, none of it has worked or they wouldn’t be hosting this event.

It’s tomorrow night at 6:30 for a meet and greet, followed by the presentations at 7. Mesa Verde Methodist Church 1701 Baker Street, Costa Mesa

The next school board meeting is on Tuesday, February 12.

Steve Smith