Screen_Schooled

Matt Miles (left) and Joe Clement decided to write a book after they realized there was a serious lack of information as to why students weren't focusing in class. 

Screens are everywhere: on iPhones, television, computers and tablets. That’s what JMU alumni Joe Clement (’91) and Matt Miles (’06) noticed had taken over their students’ lives at Chantilly High School. Once they realized the lack of awareness regarding the issue of screen usage, they decided to write a book to explain the problem to a wide audience.

“Over the last five to six years, we noticed students were having a lot of trouble just thinking, focusing, thinking critically, solving problems, interacting socially,” Clements said. “We talked to other teachers and realized a lot of us were seeing it.”

Among their staff lunchroom, the two teachers discussed the problems that were manifesting in their classrooms. Unable to find the answers they were looking for, they began talking to other teachers at their school. Frustrated with their lack of results, they began interviewing individuals across the country with knowledge of this issue. 

“Our observations were that kids were using screens, primarily smartphones, during school,” Miles said. “It was fairly apparent from anecdotal evidence that kids were clearly distracted not just from class but from each other by their smartphones. What was really shocking was that, given free time, they wouldn’t even talk to each other.”

“Screen Schooled” is a book targeted for parents and educators who have the same hesitation the authors had about the influence of screens on young individuals. A part of the book stressed that parents who feel the same way aren’t alone and that technology overuse can be detrimental to students.

Richard Cytowic, a professor of neurology at George Washington University, described the authors as “voices in the wilderness” alerting the public to the negative consequences of screen overuse.

“Overexposure to digital screen media is deleterious, particularly to young developing brains,” Cytowic said. “Only in the glare of scrutiny have big tech companies finally admitted that they have been overexposing us to the images, but also, the blue light from screens that wreaks havoc on the circadian rhythms — [the sleep-wake cycles] — of high school students.”

Cytowic said children don’t need to see mediated images on a screen but need other people to interact and make eye contact with. He added that screens can create a barrier.

“The world is enthralled with this technology,” Cytowic said. “Yes, it’s wonderful, yes, it’s cool looking, yes — my God — look at what you can do. But you don’t notice how addictive it is.”

Clement and Miles said children can spend as many as eight to nine hours a day outside of school on screens. When they come to school, screens are more prevalent than ever in the classroom. 

“One of the things Joe and I make clear is that we don’t go around wagging our fingers at kids,” Miles said. “In a way, I feel sorry for kids. I wrote this book, and I’m guilty of times where there’s a lull in the conversation or nothing going on that’s captivating my attention, I go to my phone and pull it out to check texts.”

Miles said that if a child is sitting in class and isn’t interested in the material, the phone’s designed to be appealing. It’s intentionally made to grip people’s attention.

“Had we had phones in the ’80s, ’90s or 2000s, we’d be guilty of it too,” Miles said. “This isn’t a generational thing.”

One tactic they’ve found useful is dividing up class time. Clement and Miles said attention spans of students are shorter than ever due to the massive amount of rapidly changing images they’re used to seeing.

“Going up against Netflix or some game they’re playing, you need to be more compelling,” Miles said. “Teachers have to be more on their game than ever before.”

During the process of writing the book, they learned that many top tech executives send their children to screen-free schools. Silicon Valley parents are raising many children tech-free.

“What do the wealthiest among us know that the rest of us don’t?” Clements said. “Regular old public school kids are being told to use their computer all day long. In the most private schools, they’re told to never look at it.”

For the authors, they agree that this is a problem well within society’s grasp to handle. They recommend setting aside time from screens and just becoming more cognizant of the problem.

“Kids today are the same in a lot of ways they were 20 years ago,” Clements said. “It’s just this issue that seems to be really changing the way they behave and the way they interact. This is something that is totally within our control.”

Contact Matthew Sasser at sasserma@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.