The school year is still fresh and new, and yet I marvel at how quickly we fall right back into familiar grooves and rhythms. Let’s go swiftly back one more time to that aura and excitement of convocation morning. Student leaders, administrators, and teachers imparted many words of wisdom on that first day of school, and one message seemed particularly timely and important. We urged our students and teachers to take the time to really see and hear each other every day and in every interaction. We need to learn to hear different points of view and to practice respectful discourse when we disagree. In fact, we want everyone to feel safe enough to strongly disagree with each other and still remain in community with one another. All voices and opinions should be heard with none silenced, furthering a deep and meaningful connection among our students. We are asking the members of our school community to be counter cultural in this school year.
Making this plea is the easy part, but executing an action plan takes more effort. The first step may be removing the ear plugs from our ears while sitting in the lobby and putting away our cell phones from 8:00 until 3:10 every day. Yes, that means that parents may not have easy and direct access to their daughters throughout the day. The up side is that our students will be able to live and breathe in the moment. They can resist the 9th social media check of the morning, a download on Netflix, or a viral YouTube video, and can talk to a classmate about how hard the chemistry lab is. They can learn about another culture and its music and art in Spanish class instead of isolating and listening to only what they prefer throughout the day. Finally, they can find their own voices and make mistakes within the privacy of a small class and the protection of bonds formed after seeing and hearing each other. There are no strangers in this scenario
A Washington Post article, called “13, Right Now,” by Jessica Contrara, tells us why it is important to swim against the social media tide to gain human connection whenever we can. The author describes the life of a typical 13 year-old, named Katherine. After sliding into the seat of the car and being asked how her day was at school, Katherine doesn’t respond. The following is a list of what ensues.
“…her thumb is on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.
Ms. Contrara reminds us that “Somewhere, maybe at this very moment, neurologists are trying to figure out what all this screen time is doing to the still-forming brains of people Katherine’s age…—everyone wants to know what happens when the generation born glued to screens has to look up and interact with the world.”
We know what happens when our students look up and interact with the world. The world is a better place. Our students put their minds to solving real world problems, perhaps reducing the carbon footprint of our school and our homes or maybe our country. They learn to be leaders by listening to and working with their classmates and friends with different points of view and different priorities. They may take a little longer to implement a plan, and they may need to form a new plan after listening and hearing a unique point of view. They are leaders who will learn to work with personalities at many different places on the political spectrum, and they will be stronger and more confident because of it.
Ten years ago, Harpeth Hall’s “no cell phone rule” was to keep our students focused on their classes and school work. We wanted to make sure they did not have yet another distraction during the school day. All of that is still important and necessary, but not enough of a reason. The urgency in reaffirming this policy in 2016, in the midst of other schools moving in a different direction, is due to a clarion call for our students to “look up and interact with the world.” Learning to lead ourselves and others requires that each of us sees and hears each other every day.
If you need to text your daughter during the school day, think again. It may not be worth interrupting a great mind at work. She has problems to solve, opinions to support, and a world to make better, and we are all counting on that happening sooner rather than later.