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Letter: Screen-Obsessed Children

Screen-Obsessed Children

To the Editor:

Twenty years ago, one of my 11th-grade English students told me, “I never finished a book in my life until I took your class.” He was the canary tweeting in the coal mine about the mouse-click, digital, touch-screen tsunami about to inundate America, and its fertile market of public schools, which would buy millions of computers, laptops, iPods, Kindles and Chromebooks in order to keep pace with the irritating new educational buzzword then being born, “21st-century learning.” Brain scientists worry that we are creating neuro-pathways in children that will never expand into neuro-highways, pathways neither wide enough nor long enough to navigate our attention to read entire books or even complex sentences with subordinate clauses: Think Great Expectations or The Great Gatsby.

When scientists studied those who use paper copy texts vs. digital screen texts, they discovered that folks actually retain more when they read a paper copy. Perhaps it’s because the “21st-century learners” are distracted by all that hyperactive “touching, pushing, linking, scroll­ing and jumping” through digitized texts. Note: The average user checks his or her cell phone 125 times a day, hardly a recipe for concentration.

If we turn the brain into a skimmer rather than a diver over the 12 years public educators are charged with nurturing it, will we be creating a future electorate incapable of finishing a book or anything else longer than a 140-character tweet (into putty for the hands of demagogues?).

Ironically, while school boards pat themselves on the back for having adapted to the demands of “21st-century learning” by purchasing millions of screens for children to push, touch, click and scroll their lives away, those same school boards may thereby be promoting the very “attention deficit disorder” and “hyper-activity” that special educators find increasingly prevalent in our screen-obsessed children who may — like my canary in the coal mine 11th-grader — never have finished a book in their lives.

When I was a child, I used to trust that adults knew what they are doing. Now that I’ve been an adult for several decades, I’m not so sure.

Paul D. Keane

White River Junction