Mind Games

Last month I had a delightful lunch date with three boys in our third grade, a “Hangin’ with the Head” opportunity offered as an auction item at our parent association fundraiser.  I thoroughly enjoyed observing their interaction and conversation—and the insights it provided me about the world of contemporary third graders.  Gaming was the most frequent topic of conversation, with Minecraft taking center stage.  The most memorable quotation that emerged from the gaming conversation was this: “Minecraft is just too complicated for adults.”  I think there is definitely truth in that statement, especially for this adult.  There is no doubt that every one of our ten grandchildren is more adept at manipulating electronic devices than I.  They are digital natives one and all.  I am clearly a digital dinosaur in terms of chronology, evidence of which is that I was a mid-
20s adult when the game Pong was introduced.  No first grader in our school can read better than I or solve math problems better than I, etc.  However, I am quite certain that most—if not all of them—could easily eclipse me in iPad manipulation skill.  That represents a huge paradigm shift for educators.  The tables (tablets?) have been turned.
Hand of Asian girl playing Tablet.This development can be good news for children and adults, but there is an ever growing number of cautionary tales.  Not a week goes by that I do not see an article in professional literature about the perils of excessive screen time for young people.  This is of particular concern for me as head of a school with a 1-to-1 iPad program in our middle school and a commitment to the incorporation of other new technologies into our PK-8 educational program.  One of the harmful side effects of excessive screen time is the deleterious effect if has on the development of social-emotional skills in students (and all of us, for that matter).  This has risen to the level of a public health issue as demonstrated by the guidelines developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  This is particularly worrisome for me as head of an Episcopal school that puts a high value on development of such social-emotional skills in our students.

This is not intended as a diatribe against new technologies.  These ever-changing and ever-advancing tools can provide many benefits, and they are not going away.  Minecraft provides a brilliant array of options for learning and problem-solving.  I myself have been exhilarated by the ways in which I have grown as a learner through contemporary technology.  We adults need to help our young people to manage their use of technology; they can figure out the manipulation piece on their own.  To provide that assistance, we need to model what we desire.  We need to get off our devices more often and model genuine healthy personal interaction at home and at school.

I sincerely believe that children’s brains are changing in new ways because of new technology.  My hope is that this will be an evolutionary moment in human development- not a devolutionary one.  I also firmly believe that we adults can be very influential in influencing that outcome.

Until next time…

My best,

Leo

Tethered

It is still amazing to me how tethered we have become to electronic devices that were unknown not very many years ago.  Evidence surrounds us:  Last-minute texting in a movie theater as the clever video about no texting plays on the screen, restaurants where everybody in a dinner party is on a device, gyms where people cling to their phones while on treadmills or stationary bikes, airport conversations about unpleasant bosses and unreasonable customers that are almost impossible not to overhear, and professional conferences where some attendees are incapable of staying put for an hour without heading to the hallway to check one’s phone.  A more personal example occurred this week.  Our youngest grandchild and his family are visiting this week, and practically the first words out of his mouth early in his first morning with us were these: “Where’s my iPad?”

This is not a diatribe against technology.  Being tethered to a device can certainly have undeniable benefits.  It can keep us connected to people we love, can get us back on track when we are lost, provide ready access to abundant information, and is invaluable especially for those who are in professions that require immediate response to critical situations. 

I am sure that most of us were tethered to something(s) long before the invention of smart phones, tablets, and other devices.  And being untethered suggests to me floating aimlessly through life.  But to be tethered can be confining and limiting so there must be some slack and give in the tether. 

Ultimately the essential question is this:  Are we tethered to the right things?  At yesterday morning’s annual National Junior Honor Society induction ceremony at our school, I suggested that the occasion encouraged us to tether ourselves to things that have substance and value, including those items that we noted in honoring our inductees: scholarship (lifelong learning), service (“to serve a world in need” in the words of our school mission statement), leadership (making a positive difference each day), citizenship (staying healthily connected to all the communities of which we are members- from families to schools to neighborhoods to congregations to cities to countries to the world), and character (the bedrock of all the others, deepening each day the core values and principles that will stand us in good stead no matter what circumstances we face in our lives). 

Finally, we are called to tether ourselves to a higher and transcendent purpose, which for me means being tethered to a loving God.

Until next time…

My best,

Leo

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Congratulations to our 29 newest members of the All Saints’ Episcopal Day School Chapter of the National Junior Honor Society. These new members are are now responsible for kindling the flame of scholarship, service, leadership, citizenship, and character.