End of the Week Update – 3/7/14

March 08, 2014 in Inside SWS

This week has felt kind of like one big game of dodgeball, as I’ve watched colleagues and students disappear for days due to the flu and respiratory bugs. Thankfully I am still standing, and I hope those who have been ill are on the mend.

Ultimate frisbee is underway, as are rehearsals for a host of plays including the both the 4th and 12th grades. I look forward to joining many of you at the middle school performance of Peter Pan at 7 pm tonight – you can also catch it at 2pm tomorrow at the Seattle Musical Theatre in Magnuson Park.

I’d like to share a couple of recent articles I have recently read. While the first two are alarming – quite honestly, frightening – I am at the same time filled with hope in light of our commitment to helping children learn to use technology in appropriate ways. This is not an easy task given the highly “wired” world in which we live, but I am convinced every day it is imperative if we are to have healthy adults twenty years from now.

Driving home following a 4th grade parent evening I caught the TED Radio Hour on NPR, featuring Founder and Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle. For once I appreciated my 20-minute commute – Are We Plugged-In, Connected, But Alone? offered a real wake up call to me as a parent and educator. Turkle shared a recent turning point in her thinking, when she visited a nursing home and observed an elderly woman pouring out her heart to and finding comfort in a robot. In Sherry’s words, “I felt myself at the cold, hard center of a perfect storm. We expect more from technology, and less from each other. And I ask myself, why have things come to this? And I believe it’s because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable; we’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control. But we’re not so comfortable. We are not so much in control… you can end up hiding from each other, even as we’re all constantly connected to each other.”

From NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) comes an article by Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist, school consultant, and author who writes about the impact of media and technology on children’s psychological well being. In Got Grit? The Call to Educate Smart, Savvy, and Socially Intelligent Students, Adair notes that the responsibility to cultivate traits such as perseverance, self-control, optimism, zest, curiosity, social and emotional intelligence, gratitude, joy and resilience is increasingly falling to schools, resulting in a transformative shift in curriculum and culture. She writes, “Such a shift is especially urgent because today’s children are growing up in, among other things, a free-for-all online culture where cheating, lying, and manipulation are too often the norm and fame has replaced success as the number one value. Of increasing concern to me as a psychologist is this troubling side of technology: the negative impact of social networking and entertainment that glorifies mean-spirited behavior, dishonesty, and violence, puts sadistic porn in the hands of young teens, and reduces interpersonal communication to texting or online banter and, too often, to bullying. For all the valuable aspects of digital technology, it is also creating a deep disconnect in the lives of too many children, eroding the opportunities for meaningful conversation and the relationships children need for healthy psychological development. Helping students develop the nine traits for success — along with a good dose of media literacy — will not only help them resist antisocial cultural norms, but also develop the character and humanity to change these norms for the better.”

That is our work, and as I spend time in classrooms, parent evenings, and the halls of the high school, I believe we are doing it well. That’s not say that 11th graders aren’t grumbling about our “no cell phones in use during the school day” policy, or that 7th graders won’t push their parents to purchase the newer and fancier iPod. That’s OK and healthy. During a 6th grade parent evening this week a parent shared a wonderful image for parents and teachers as our children move down the path toward independence. We are the rock against which their waves of emotion, passion and uncertainty slam up against. The water rushes toward us, hits hard sometimes, and then calmly ebbs away. Our job is to hold firm and offer that safe breakwater that ensures they don’t wind up adrift in the larger sea before they are ready.

Have a wonderful – unplugged – weekend with your family!