The new preschool is crushing kids
December 20, 2015 2:07 AM   Subscribe

"Preschool classrooms have become increasingly fraught spaces, with teachers cajoling their charges to finish their 'work' before they can go play. And yet, even as preschoolers are learning more pre-academic skills at earlier ages, I’ve heard many teachers say that they seem somehow—is it possible?—less inquisitive and less engaged than the kids of earlier generations." [Atlantic]
posted by forza (158 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jesus. When I left Denmark at age six or so, I was in kindergarten, and just about able to scratch out a vague approximation of my own name. Just. I ended up straight into year 2 in a British primary school part way through its academic year, with the expectation I'd be able to read. In a language I didn't speak. By the end of the year, I was caught up. And I still feel like I'd've been better served by having more time to play and learn social skills before everything became sitting still at desks and reading and maths. That that is being pushed back to even before the stupendously early school starts in the anglophone world, well, it makes me feel sorry for the kids.
posted by Dysk at 2:54 AM on December 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


What has happened to early education?? I was considered an early reader in the 80s because I learned how to read in preschool (I eagerly asked for it, it wasn't part of the curriculum), and when I got to elementary school, they originally recommended I be put two years ahead. Thankfully we had teachers who argued that kids needed to play, and by skipping two years, I'd be missing out on the longer play times for first- and second-graders. So they kept me in my grade, but put me in a year higher for reading, and I was in TAG (Talented And Gifted) classes.

You know what TAG classes consisted of? Loosely-guided play. The TAG kids from all years were put into the same class, and we would talk and play together. There was no set curriculum or goals that I recall. I do remember building clay castles and volcanoes, and my best friends and I asking for as many model rockets as the school would let us create. We were able to "present" the model rockets to the rest of the kids too, which was one of our favorite things. It was an idea we came up with ourselves, that the teachers then helped us with.

From what I heard from teachers later on, every single student in TAG classes in our area went on to graduate university, and in my circle that was confirmed – all the friends I knew did. So what the heck happened. If university education was a goal, they can't say the experiment didn't work. If life fulfilment was a goal, it also worked, but then most of my classmates (not just TAG) are leading pretty happy lives too. What are the reasons behind the change??
posted by fraula at 3:18 AM on December 20, 2015 [29 favorites]


Thanks for the post. Good article.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:20 AM on December 20, 2015


The older I get, the more frustrated I am with the way we've turned everything in the world into office work. When I look at the things I do well, they're all borne out of play first, practice second, and scholarship only once I've developed enough of a mastery that I have the time and interest in further honing.

I can't think of any time in my life when my culture has hated and resented youth more.
posted by sonascope at 3:20 AM on December 20, 2015 [126 favorites]


The US education system and its emphasis on standardized testing, scores, and "work" to meet minimum goals is worthless.

Put a kid out into the woods, or on a farm, or in a garage full of tools and materials. Give them musical instruments and books, get them a library card, take them on trips and adventures, give them a pile of sand and a shovel, let them fish and hunt and ride bikes and hike and paddle canoes.

Take away the phones, tablets, computer games and xboxes...give them telescopes, pocket knives, magnifying glasses, doll houses, puppies and kittens, baby pigs and an insect net...

Then leave them the hell alone...

But then, I live in Michigan, the state that proudly sits in the #1 position for defunding schools and education...we're just about down to the point where we will be closing our schools... honestly, it might be the best thing that could happen to our kids!
posted by HuronBob at 3:22 AM on December 20, 2015 [29 favorites]


The older I get, the more frustrated I am with the way we've turned everything in the world into office work.
One irony of this, is the rise of offices which try to promote creativity by aping the design of old-fashioned kindergartens.
posted by rongorongo at 3:28 AM on December 20, 2015 [62 favorites]


by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills

Well, duh.

If you're a small child's parent and you live somewhere that is currently getting this wrong, educate yourself and then resist that Camazotz shit with all of your organized might.
posted by flabdablet at 3:39 AM on December 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


My husband and I had a knock-down, drag-out argument over preschools because he thought the touchy-feely ones were "wasting" our kids' potential and I was determined they were going nowhere but play-based and we weren't even going to talk about "potential" until they were considerably older.

He eventually acquiesced to the vast bulk of research. But I feel like we're facing the same battle in elementary school. He's always wanting them accelerated more; to me, if they're happy and learning, there's plenty of time ahead to worry about accelerating.

Our boys both have late birthdays and are on the young end of their age cohort, so every time things get academic and they're expected to sit still and follow directions, all hell breaks loose because their executive functions are not up to that. I'm afraid the insistence on six hours of sitting still will end up with them labeled bad kids by the end of kindergarten.

And the amount of homework they send home! Unreal. I want to spend my evenings outdoors and enjoying my family, not doing more fucking worksheets. Why must my children's lives be worksheets all the time at age 5? It's incomprehensible.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:40 AM on December 20, 2015 [103 favorites]


He's always wanting them accelerated more; to me, if they're happy and learning, there's plenty of time ahead to worry about accelerating.

Lots of inexperienced operators confuse the accelerator with the choke.
posted by flabdablet at 3:42 AM on December 20, 2015 [32 favorites]


Why must my children's lives be worksheets all the time at age 5?

They don't have to be. Just print off a bunch of identical form notes explaining that you have research-based objections to seeing your children's omnivorous minds force-fed white-bread structured work, and send back each worksheet completely blank, with one of those stapled to it and signed.

If you can band together with like-minded parents and organize a takeover of your school council, so much the better.
posted by flabdablet at 3:51 AM on December 20, 2015 [29 favorites]


But then, I live in Michigan, the state that proudly sits in the #1 position for defunding schools and education...

"Fortunately" for inveterate state budget cutters, defunding and defending are indistinguishable to the illiterate.
posted by fairmettle at 4:09 AM on December 20, 2015


I've been teaching for a long time. There is a world of difference between preschool kids today and those 10 years ago. The article discusses that amazing preschool class where the kids are debating whether snakes have bones. It's a rich, lively conversation and you can even happily imagine them jumping up and down explaining their reasoning.

But there are fewer and fewer kids who are capable of that free-form thinking, that ability to connect veins in hands and veins in leaves and question things and learn about science by jumping up and down in puddles.

Again, I'm a teacher and I can tell you that kids today have SO little curiosity, SO little interest in figuring things out on their own ("Why learn it if I can G**gle it?" is something I hear daily), such terrible social skills.

And it's because their goddamned parents have had them playing with screens since birth. They're used to having the DEFINED THING in front of them, and from there they are allowed discrete choices to make the thing on the screen do whatever, but everything has been programmed and there's NO creativity involved.

Games are written so that they're rewarded for giving the smallest amount of effort.

The first few years are when massive brain development occurs and the brains of kids who are growing up in front of screens are less developed, period. By the time they get to school, they can't do what was typical (even in preschool) 10 years ago because their brains haven't developed. And they don't get make-up time later. It's game over.

When they get to school, they expect easy answers. They have no idea how to problem solve. They become furious and resist learning when they don't get some type of payoff after 10 seconds of thought. I can't tell you how many kids I have who are diagnosed with ADHD and Executive Function disorders, but it's just that their brains are used to constant stimulation with colors and noises and hand movements and they literally don't have the ability to sit quietly, take in the world, explore and think and try things. That ability was never developed in those critical early years, literally.

Take away the phones, tablets, computer games and xboxes...give them telescopes, pocket knives, magnifying glasses, doll houses, puppies and kittens, baby pigs and an insect net...

Amen. This is a problem that needs solving. Let's start by taking away the tablets, phones and other screens. It's not doing them any favors.
posted by kinetic at 4:20 AM on December 20, 2015 [105 favorites]


"If you can band together with like-minded parents and organize a takeover of your school council, so much the better."

Ironic, but I already did do that.

I even had it put in my kid's IEP that he wasn't doing homework because he needs the time for gross and fine motor skills and socialization (I.e., building legos with family), and they STILL send home the fucking worksheets. Which I send back with "No. See IEP" but they come every day and one first grade teacher made a big thing of giving my kid an F on every paper he didn't turn in. (My protests were livid and he is in a different class.) The thing is, he's reading and writing at a fourth-grade level without their help, so it's not like we're in a panicked remedial situation; what he needs is classroom skills and social skills.

I also object -- and I objected to this bullshit all the years I was on school board -- to the stupid-ass reading curriculum that replaces children's books with "skill building" mini-books that have no plot, no art, and no grace to their language. And then I'm supposed to read my kid that bullshit every night before bed? No. We own better books than that and I am reading him better books than that.

(We're having a rough start, I got told my four-year-old was refusing to participate in the Pledge and that I needed to tell him he "has" to say the Pledge, which I refused to do as that would be a lie. I said I'd tell him he had to be respectful during the Pledge, but I wasn't gonna tell him he had to participate and I'd rather she stop telling him that too. I'm a very frustrated with the amount of wrong things and outright lies teachers want me to communicate to my kids. I don't want to get a reputation as a difficult parent who doesn't back the teachers, but I'm not going to LIE to my child about their First Amendment Rights, or demand that they participate in activities that are making them dumber and have no pedagogical support and are explicitly ruled out in their IEP. Anyway it's going badly. Very frustrating.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:23 AM on December 20, 2015 [199 favorites]


Also I do realize my four-year-old is refusing to say the Pledge just to be contrary, not out of any great principle of free speech, and yet he still has that right and I'm not going to LIE about it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:24 AM on December 20, 2015 [81 favorites]


This makes me so sad. I did prac teaching in a fabulous preschool and had wonderful conversations with the kids, those 3 and 4 year olds had fascinating ideas and were so open to exploring them. Hand a kid a golf ball and ping pong ball and ask them to think about how one is so much heavier when they are both the same size - you can see them learning as they think and discuss and make connections, it's lovely.

"Work" meant stuff like making all different shapes with play doh or experimenting with what would float or sink and why. Or building block constructions that spread across the classroom floor and were so valued that all the kids and teachers would step around them for the rest of the day.

We were trained to provide play based experiences but it sounds like that training would not be welcomed in US preschools :-(
posted by kitten magic at 4:27 AM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I kept waiting for this piece to really talk about income inequality and how kids in low-income families fall further and further behind in early childhood, but it didn't get there; maybe it's in another chapter of the author's book? The kids in my sister's preschool classroom are lucky if they can stay in the program at all; some have to withdraw because their parents can't keep up with the school schedule (due to work demands, health demands, prison, elder care, etc.). And it's a pretty basic schedule; I don't think the problem is that they're overloaded with worksheets or anything. Some kids and their parents are undocumented, which places an additional stress on the families; some are known to the teachers to have autism, learning disabilities, or adjustment issues, but neither the program nor the parents can afford to give them the full support they need, and I am sure this has a real long-term effect. With this,
Contrasting the dismal results of Tennessee’s preschool system with the more promising results in places such as Boston, which promotes active, child-centered learning (and, spends more than twice the national average on preschool), lends further credence to the idea that preschool quality really does matter.
...all I can think is, uh, your parenthetical fact might be kind of important there. I wonder if the families are income-matched? Are Tennessee and Massachusetts equivalent in the quality of public programs and services? (answer: lol no) I accept that the author's focus is on curriculum exclusively here, and it's not like no one has ever talked about this issue before, but it seemed to be a bit of an elephant in the room.

(Huh. I thought I recognized the author's name.)
posted by thetortoise at 4:32 AM on December 20, 2015 [23 favorites]


Putting no homework in the IEP is a great idea. My parents frequently wrote notes excusing my incomplete homework; their reasoning was that between family obligations (dinner together, chores, time with baby sibling) there just weren't enough hours in the day to do hours of homework AND get enough sleep. And this was in high school. They figured I was doing fine in school, the school had me over 6.5 hours per day, and if they couldn't fit in all the teaching in that time that wasn't our problem. Homework for little kids is appalling. Reading with parents, yes. But no bloody worksheets!
posted by kitten magic at 4:36 AM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Work" meant stuff like making all different shapes with play doh or experimenting with what would float or sink and why. Or building block constructions that spread across the classroom floor and were so valued that all the kids and teachers would step around them for the rest of the day.

One of my greatest teaching triumphs was the year when my Learning Center (special ed) class received delivery of five brand new desktop computers. The kids and I unpacked the computers, put them on a table, and they spent the next few weeks making spaceships out of the boxes. Those kids were working together, problem solving, being active and engaged and laughing.

I was let go from that teaching position precisely because of that, but it was worth it.
posted by kinetic at 4:37 AM on December 20, 2015 [66 favorites]


As the father of a two year old headed to pre-K next year, this thread is an embodiment of my night terrors.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:38 AM on December 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


.....the school had me over 6.5 hours per day, and if they couldn't fit in all the teaching in that time that wasn't our problem. .....

Excellent.....
posted by HuronBob at 4:44 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


my favorite recent local little kids in school story is about the time the principal of a local public elementary school decided to "solve" behavior "problems" they had been having in the cafeteria and recess by imposing a system of rotating assigned seating during lunch *and* a zone system on the playground where students would also be assigned a playground zone and wouldn't be allowed to leave it during recess. this is at a small, not particularly impoverished, all-white rural public elementary school.

and you wonder why american society is the way it is...
posted by ennui.bz at 4:50 AM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a bad feeling that the surface topic is not what the worksheets are designed to teach
posted by thelonius at 4:57 AM on December 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


The other thing I've noticed that scares me a little is, kids in elementary school spend so much time sitting at their desks, and have so little recess time or social time, and they don't seem to have very many FRIENDS at school. Combined with working parents and dispersed, car-centric neighborhoods, I just don't see the kind of child-herds at school or outside school that I used to see. Like, in kindergarten and first grade I was learning to manage complex social interactions with the 20 individuals in my class and the 60 in my grade and I knew a lot about them -- who their parents were, where they lived, who had good playdates, what they ate for lunch, what religion they were, how many siblings they had -- and I swear to God my kids know hardly ANYTHING about their classmates. They just aren't even given time to socialize, and playdates have all but disappeared because probably 90% of the kids go to some kind of aftercare until their moms get off work. They develop one or two good friends in class, but there doesn't seem to be any broader social group going on, and it's totally normal that they mostly "play" with their siblings after school.

thelonius: "I have a bad feeling that the surface topic is not what the worksheets are designed to teach"

And no, the first grade teacher I had a beef with was quite clear that the worksheets were designed to "train parents" to do homework so that parents would understand the importance of homework to academic success when it started to "matter" later on. I was like, "As I graduated college summa cum laude and went on for two advanced degrees, may we assume that I have adequate homework skills and do not need further training in the importance of independent academic work?"

Apparently no, no we may not assume that. Not only do we have to treat my CHILD like a moron, but we have to treat ME like a child.

While this fiasco was going on my mother reminded me that the very first time I got in really big trouble at school (I was a big people-pleaser as a child) was when I flatly refused to do some sixth-grade busywork (copying definitions of earth science words that I already knew out of the dictionary) because it was "stupid" and I had to do other, actually important homework in math and reading. It took FOREVER and it was tedious and pointless and I could ace the vocabulary quizzes without studying the words because it was not very hard vocabulary. Anyway my mom got called to school about my "defiance." I expected to be in a shitstorm of trouble when she got home, but she told me I didn't have to do the vocabulary worksheets and she didn't care if I got Fs because of it. (Which ... dude, my mother cared if I got Bs. I got GROUNDED for Cs. Not caring about an F???? Unthinkable.) Later on I found out that at this parent-teacher conference, which my mother attended with my six-week-old youngest brother in arms, the science teacher informed my mom that she was a bad mother, and that she had too many children, and that I was a defiant, failing child because my mother was neglecting me by having so many children, and as a result I would never go to college because my parents were more interested in overpopulating the planet than taking care of their children and she hadn't seen such irresponsible behavior in decades, and ...

My mom told her to fuck off and then went and cried in her car for half an hour. And then told me she didn't care what grade I got in earth science. It's probably good she didn't tell me about what the teacher said, though, until after I was well out of the class ... probably tiny Eyebrows would have suddenly discovered a whole new world of defiance and revenge.

Anyway, DOWN WITH BUSYWORK.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:12 AM on December 20, 2015 [152 favorites]


I hope everyone who visits this thread has had a chance to read and ponder kinetic's fantastic comment. School is a huge contributor to development and socialization, but, as always, charity begins at home.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:17 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think laying the blame on screen time is simplistic. My kids both have gone to Montessori (the exploratory kind, not the worksheet kind), because my husband and I both work full time, and there are a wide variety of approaches to screen time among the families.

The kids generally are inquisitive and curious, because they have learned that school is about having neat things to explore. They have 2.5 hour "work" periods where kids settle into their activities, which are concrete.

My elder child moved to public school in grade one. Math was taught often on a "smart" board - one, where the kids were on the carpet passively watching. (Not all that different from a chalkboard IMO.) He was moved from subject to subject at 30 min intervals whether he was engaged or not. He had to complete a lot of worksheets that were not as his level. He had a really hard transition and we watched his drive to engage at school shut down.

On weekends we started having arguments about screen time -- he was incessantly watching popular mechanics for kids and YouTube videos on how to make things. Finally we enrolled him, at his six year old request, into pottery and then he started making all his own toys, separately, out of Fimo. We got a museum membership.

The kid was starved for information that interested him. He could read and did a lot, and we threw him out in the back yard and park plenty, but it was really a day and night difference in his school environment.

If you put my kid on a carpet with 20 other kids and ask him about snakes, he will be pulling hair out of the carpet and say he's bored in the hopes he won't have to answer and questions in front of the group. He learns with his hands, he's often shy, he doesn't like to be put on the spot. He's introverted.

You give him a snakeskin and leave him alone for 10 minutes, he will come up with a theory of skin and eventually ask you about it. But he doesn't easily -- this was especially true before he was 8 or 9 -- go from concrete to verbal. I realize school is about verbalizing knowledge. But my particular kid is turned off by it.

I have observed (he's in grade 5 late immersion now) that his particular learning style works with teachers who are themselves engaged and curious, who see the curriculum as a launch point, not a "my job is done when the unit is over." That describes 2/5 of his public school years to date. The other three were not very good...one awful, one disorganized, one worksheet based. As his executive function has caught up his grades have improved (he was tuned out completely for one year) but he engaged on weekends, endured mon-fri during those years.

I have great sympathy for teachers caught in a system that doesn't give them a lot of respect and time and tools. But I think kids are very natural learners and if in the lower elementary years they can't engage at school, if they are fed and clothed and have slept ok, it may be the classroom doesn't work for a bunch of them. I don't really believe screens can kill curiosity, although we haven't been willing to experiment on our kids.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:19 AM on December 20, 2015 [34 favorites]


"Screen time" is the bogeyman of the generation before mine. I like to think I'm a pretty good example of someone who was real big into computers and video games doing pretty well academically, and I'm 30 now. I mean, hell, "computer nerd" is literally an archetype.

Honestly, my bigger fault was laziness when it came to actively studying instead of just paying attention in class, but that was just garden variety "it always came so effortlessly for years" rather than "spent too much time with ZZT and MegaZeux."
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:28 AM on December 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


I'm gobsmacked, Eyebrows, and I want to give your mum a big hug! What a horrible, horrible thing to say to someone! Sheesh, it puts my negative parent teacher interview in a whole other light (my 1st grade teacher asked if my parents would please encourage me to stop writing stories about bunny rabbits sitting around drinking cups of tea. I dunno what her beef with bunnies was but my parents came home and told me to write ALL the bunny stories I wanted. And I did. Take that Mrs Anti-Bunny First grade teacher!)
posted by kitten magic at 5:31 AM on December 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


Warriorqueen... I should have tempered my comment about screens with a disclaimer that, yes, of course, there is a world of information that is so easily accessed that way... Let me back down a bit on my previous statement and suggest that, instead of being eliminated ('cuz thats what it sounded like) that screen time should be balanced with other activities and supervised to assure that the content is, in some way, useful, stimulating, educational, artful, imaginative, etc.... Thanks for pulling me up on that broad generaliation.
posted by HuronBob at 5:36 AM on December 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm a very frustrated with the amount of wrong things and outright lies teachers want me to communicate to my kids. I don't want to get a reputation as a difficult parent who doesn't back the teachers, but I'm not going to LIE to my child about their First Amendment Rights, or demand that they participate in activities that are making them dumber and have no pedagogical support and are explicitly ruled out in their IEP. Anyway it's going badly. Very frustrating.

I don't have kids, but this, along with the busy work, is precisely why so many middle class, educated parents I know are doing homeschooling or alternative school options. As a fraction of the whole I am sure the numbers are small, but they seem like exactly the engaged and active parents whom a school district should not be alienating, either.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:37 AM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think laying the blame on screen time is simplistic.

Seconding this. There's some nuance here. There's the lack of physical activity because of butt-sitting watching a screen, which is a real issue. There's the less gross and fine motor skill training because of screens instead of playgrounds and crafts, which is also potentially an issue (but though my kids love their screens, they will also craft at the drop of a hat, creating is just more intrinsically rewarding than watching stuff). And there's the 'watching' vs 'doing' tension, which isn't really about a screens at all. Watching another Shopkins Youtube video vs building a program in Scratch are vastly different activities, even though they both take place on an iPad.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:47 AM on December 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


One of the reasons I love the daycare my son is at right now is that it's decidedly non-academic and pretty oldschool (I wouldn't even call it play-based as to me that kind of implies a fancy reggio emelia sort of place that I couldn't afford).

But I think there's a lot of levels to this issue that I don't often see addressed. The big one is class and race. There is a problem with underprivileged kids entering school already way way behind their peers and if they don't get caught up quickly, they never do. That isn't a made up thing, that is real. Being able to be blase about preschool academics is something you can be if you're privileged enough to have a house full of books and quality family informal learning time on the weekends, and inquiry-oriented toys.

I also think class anxiety has a lot to do with the push for earlier and earlier academics. If you are middle class, there is no guarantee your children will be, and this is very keenly felt. One way some parents deal with this anxiety is trying to make sure their kids are fast-tracked to what is still the major pathway to remaining in the middle class: college. Some parents rebel against this (as seen in comments here) but many more are all about it, and will demand it. It's not a research and evidence based-demand, it is a fear-based one. And I think we've all seen amply demonstrated over the past decade that fear trumps evidence every time.

I think screen time is a red herring. I think our problems are economic and social, not technological.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:49 AM on December 20, 2015 [62 favorites]


I think laying the blame on screen time is simplistic.

In the case of kids up to age 5 I don't, nor do I think it's the bogeyman of our generation or an, "I watched 7 hours of TV every day when I was a kid and I'm fine" situation. I'm speaking specifically to the phenomenon of parents handing kids any electronic non-interactive game from birth to the age of 5.

The first few years of their life are critical for brain growth and development. Literally, pathways are formed and their brains actually grow and develop strength.

When kids are using screens, that development does not happen, period. The ability to take that snakeskin, look at it and have your brain immediately have questions, "What is this? Why does it look like this? What else looks like this?" etc. doesn't happen with kids who have grown up with too much screen time.

They look at it and expect to be given some discrete instruction on its use. The very nature of any electronic game has closed parameters. They don't know how to be as inquisitive as previous generations.

Taking a kid who's grown up with screen time and telling them now it's time to be curious and explore is like telling me to become a banana. I can't become a banana; I have no idea what that even looks like. My brain can't get around that concept. It's the same for kids with too much screen time under their belts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises limited screen time for kids and NO screen time up to age 2:

The AAP recommends that parents establish "screen-free" zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children's bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.

Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.

posted by kinetic at 5:51 AM on December 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


Sure, HuronBob. But...and I say this with affection as someone worked in the school system and for whom the sit in rows model worked really well, I loved the learning parts of school...until I saw a classroom that was completely set up to support concrete learning, with trained guides/observers supporting the kids in it I had no idea how lousy our concepts of classrooms often are for young children. And Montessori can totally be done wrong -- and not suit every kid, too.

But I really think we don't train our teachers right or give them the right goals or tools, and then the teachers blame the screens.

I'm prepared as a parent to see my influence but at the same time if the school cannot use its 6 hours a day to engage my child, it's at least partly their problem. It bugs me because if I could guarantee my child would be successful by pitching our screens, I totally would.

Of course then my kid wouldn't be able to complete homework which requires he use Google...

Leotrotsky -- agreed, but where my kids have largely been forced to sit is at public school. I mean my youngest (he's four) has been home after surgery for 4 weeks now and after day three my mother in law's job has been trying to keep him from standing on his head.

We took the restrictions off for this time and he did watch a lot of paw patrol for a few days, before he went in the cupboard and used my flour for "snow" to recreate the episode where they visit Everest in her arctic home....right now I need to get off my screen as I think he is trying to turn the cat into a mummified cat using my scarf...
posted by warriorqueen at 5:55 AM on December 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


We were trained to provide play based experiences but it sounds like that training would not be welcomed in US preschools :-(

Well, again, the US is in no way monolithic when it comes to education. Heck, my school district isn't monolithic, let alone the state. The stuff you describe is exactly what my daughter is doing in her school district run preschool.

I mean, I always get in this argument where people expect me to complain about my kid's public school education and don't believe me when I say "no, we really like his school and his teachers, they do a lot to support his learning, and he loves it there". I mean, yeah he does a little bit more homework than I'd like (approx. 30 min. a night in 2nd grade), but aside from the math worksheet, it's mostly stuff like "do jumping jacks while spelling this week's words", and his teacher actually sets an upper time limit for most of the activities with the explanation that if he's not getting it done in that time frame, it means she isn't teaching it well to him and needs to rethink her strategy.

So I don't know, I recognize that we're very lucky, but this is one of those things where ranting about how much the American view of Education sucks can miss a lot of the really great stuff that goes on, and hopefully can spread.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:00 AM on December 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


The idea that you can just Google things instead of learning them seems OK for traditional feats of learning such as memorizing all 50 State capitals, but I can see it leading to a stank attitude pretty quickly, too. Not to mention, being governed by the idea that "research = the first page of Google results" seems sub-optimal, educationally speaking.
posted by thelonius at 6:10 AM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think screen time is a red herring. I think our problems are economic and social, not technological.

I am reminded of this recent article in the New York Times titled "Class Differences in Child-Rearing Are on the Rise":
The class differences in child rearing are growing, researchers say — a symptom of widening inequality with far-reaching consequences. Different upbringings set children on different paths and can deepen socioeconomic divisions, especially because education is strongly linked to earnings. Children grow up learning the skills to succeed in their socioeconomic stratum, but not necessarily others. ...

Children were not always raised so differently. The achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is 30 percent to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than those born 25 years earlier, according to Mr. Reardon’s research.

People used to live near people of different income levels; neighborhoods are now more segregated by income. More than a quarter of children live in single-parent households — a historic high, according to Pew – and these children are three times as likely to live in poverty as those who live with married parents. Meanwhile, growing income inequality has coincided with the increasing importance of a college degree for earning a middle-class wage.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:13 AM on December 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Also keep in mind that a lot of ECE is not done in public schools. My district does not offer free preschool (it costs just as much as the nonprofit center we have him at now, and we'd have to pay for aftercare on top of it).

Head Start is a program available for low income families that is run by local agencies with federal and state money. Outside of that, the availability of public ECE is very spotty.

(Research had also indicated that the majority of Americans are happy with their own children's public schools, it's everyone else's schools that they view as terrible and in need of reform/defunding/whatever).
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:14 AM on December 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think the APA may have backed off (the cat is fine :)) but I'm really not advocating for unlimited screen time...I'm just saying I don't think a lot of preschools and kindergartens are doing any better.

This is not a comment on you, kenetic. I have had my kids with preschool teachers at the Montessori who blew my mind With their teaching and I learned so much, and I know there are teachers like that everywhere.

I still think a lot of failure has to do with school day and space structure.

Take "circle time." Circle time is sitting on your bum. It is great for kids who want to raise their hands and list all the things that start with B, circle pictures of things that start with b, etc. For my kid it's boring torment from start to finish. Is it the school's problem he is a special snowflake? No, but let's see if there are 5 of him and see what to offer them, rather than assuming he is ruined by screens. My friend's daughter is having the same issue and has zero screen time.

I don't know...I really have friends with kids ranging from no screens to all screens (we used to have none, we now on a normal day range at the bottom of the screen time allotment) and all the kids are curious and engaged -- just not always at school. It really depends on the teacher, and the school, and the curriculum, and the rhythm and feel of the day. We're all middle class but not all white or Canadian-born.

I am worried teachers are blaming screens and missing opportunities.

I joked above about Google but my kid's teachers make him use it. We got into an argument with his grade three teacher who gave them sites to visit to learn about settlement in Upper Canada which had absolutely wrong information (copied from American sources). So...yeah.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:15 AM on December 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


Actually after looking at the state of my kitchen I would like to know where I can get one of these kids who will sit still for a few hours plugged into some device. =)
posted by warriorqueen at 6:22 AM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Being able to be blase about preschool academics is something you can be if you're privileged enough to have a house full of books and quality family informal learning time on the weekends, and inquiry-oriented toys.

Yeah, and if I could say with any confidence that this kind of academic-heavy approach helps poor and minority kids to catch up to their peers, then I could say "Fine, go for it, it's not that big a price to pay," but I don't actually think that it does -- I'm not a teacher, but I am a youth librarian, and I see so many kids from poor and first-generation-immigrant families who are behind academically and totally disengaged from school. If you don't have books in your home and informal learning time on the weekends, and your only engagement with education is in the form of things like worksheets -- how do you ever get that spark where you get curious and read ten books about spiders just because you're really psyched about spiders? I don't think play-based education would solve everything either -- I think you have to fix poverty before you can close the achievement gap -- but fundamentally, I think that kind of curriculum isn't a luxury for the privileged, it's how children learn.
posted by Jeanne at 6:26 AM on December 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


Firstly, nthing the fantastic-ness of every word kinetic has written above.

For every one here who says play is better and "schoolwork" sucks, there are four others who think teachers aren't doing enough to prep their kid for the next school. These insane educational demands are coming from a small number of loud parents, and from the elected officials that parents vote in. So ... run for school board! Or urge like-minded candidates to run and support them. Look at your district's funding so classrooms are smaller or teacher aides are added back into the mix so the kids that hate circle time can have a supervised alternative.

One more nugget to toss blame onto: How much exploratory time would our little kids have back if we stopped feeding our money and their time to the the recreational sports teams/dance class machines?

Signed, daughter of a teacher/wife of a teacher.
posted by kimberussell at 6:28 AM on December 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


But I really think we don't train our teachers right or give them the right goals or tools, and then the teachers blame the screens.

I'm prepared as a parent to see my influence but at the same time if the school cannot use its 6 hours a day to engage my child, it's at least partly their problem.


Totally agree. There's a huge disconnect in education right now. We've got kids with far less curiosity and problem-solving skills and far too many teachers pretend it's not there and yes, blame the parents.

Want to know the quickest way to evaluate a teacher? Ask them how they feel about project-based learning, where teachers act as coaches and kids decide what they're going to learn and how.

PBS Newshour has a great video about an education model that not only acknowledges technology but has kids use it appropriately and creatively. It doesn't ignore the elephant in the room.
posted by kinetic at 6:29 AM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


This article is an excellent reason to homeschool, I think, or at least do a lot of really deep investigative work into finding a school where your children will really enjoy learning. Many parents don't have those options, of course, and so it's really up to our politicians and our teachers to put an end to the factories that are our schools right now.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:56 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


kimberussell: "These insane educational demands are coming from a small number of loud parents, and from the elected officials that parents vote in. So ... run for school board! Or urge like-minded candidates to run and support them. Look at your district's funding so classrooms are smaller or teacher aides are added back into the mix so the kids that hate circle time can have a supervised alternative. "

I present to you a math problem.

You run a district of 14,000 students, which employs approximately 1200 certified personnel and approximately 1200 other employees. Your operating budget is $150 million a year, of which approximately $85 million goes to unionized salaries and benefits (about $65 million to teachers). The remaining $65 million pays for buildings, grounds, transit, torts, etc.

So, assuming that $65 million is relatively fixed, as gas costs what it costs and heat costs what it costs and paint costs what it costs and so on. You are tasked with dropping your average K-2 class size from 30 students to 25 students per classroom. You currently employ approximately 100 K-2 teachers to serve the 3,000 students in that cohort (excluding special ed students for this easy math problem). To drop class size to 25, you will need to hire 20 more (and find 20 more physical classrooms, but we'll be cool and assume you got a state capital funding grant -- there's only a 28-year waiting list -- and can build some extra classrooms). An early-career teacher costs about $50,000 a year (salary, benefits, pension, etc.).

From whence will your $1,000,000 come to pay for these 20 new teachers? (And, really, the 20 new classrooms?)

Your city's EAV is fixed or falling, so there is no additional money coming in from property prices rising. Your property tax rate is already punishingly high, among the highest in the state, in the state that's highest in the nation. Your parents are poor and can ill afford an increase in the tax. Oh, and the state is cutting somewhere between $15 and $38 million in your general state aid funds, so while locating those highly-qualified teachers to add to your K-2 core and the $1 million to pay for them, you will ALSO have to figure out where to cut at least $15 million in costs. Just to add insult to injury, the city is assessing your district a $30,000 "fee" for city services so they can say they didn't "raise taxes" but instead assessed fees on all other government bodies in the area, who were forced to raise them to meet the city fees.

Find me a million dollars (and 20 classrooms) in that. I will find you smaller classes.

"Look at the finances! I'm sure there's lots of money there that's just being used inefficiently!" Well, there's always some. But this is a dangerous naivete; you have no idea the scale of the costs you're talking about, and obviously no idea where those costs are already allocated. What would you cut? Where will this money come from?

Moreover, school boards don't really have power over pedagogy, by law. They hire a superintendent who manages the pedagogy; state law is generally set up to PREVENT school boards from mucking around with how the professional educators run their classrooms. There's a variety of complicated ways this plays out in practice, but it is VERY DIFFICULT for a school board to have any effect on the pedagogical model in place in a particular district.

I literally did run for school board! to fix these things. It does not deserve a perky "!" as if it were easy to do and these problems are easy to fix and the people currently there, who have been gutting it out in excruciatingly dull meetings for ten years, haven't already tried.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:10 AM on December 20, 2015 [82 favorites]


I made the following comment in a thread several years ago, but I think it's also relevant here -

Relatedly, it seems like childhood daydreaming is dying too. There's value in sitting in the backseat of the car, staring out the window and just...thinking, as opposed to watching yet another screening of Shrek 2 on the back of mom's seat.
posted by davebush at 7:21 AM on December 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


I do think screen time is a huge problem, and does not belong in elementary curriculum. There is nothing wrong with having your kids know things in their head that yes, they could Google if they had to. There is more value in them having the capacity to know when Andrew Johnson was president, though, off the bat.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:24 AM on December 20, 2015


The more I read this thread the more I think kids who are always on screens are like welfare moms. Often heard about, rarely encountered.

That said, I do think often what's on the screen is more engaging than school learning and that's a huge systemic problem.

One I don't think is well solved by taking mostly the women out of the workplace to perform the role of teacher as free labour. (Even if, as a parent and the lower earner, it's one I have considered.)
posted by warriorqueen at 7:50 AM on December 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Sorry, the derisive form of welfare Queens from the Reagan era.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:52 AM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Find me a million dollars (and 20 classrooms) in that. I will find you smaller classes.

Higher taxes on high earners. Proper progressive taxation solves the "your parents are poor and can ill afford an increase in the tax" problem. Or even a wealth (rather than income) tax! There is not a shortage of excess wealth or income in the US, it's just unevenly distributed, so the tax burden should be unevenly distributed to match.

Sorry to give you a political solution to your maths problem, but to me that is the blindingly obvious answer.
posted by Dysk at 7:59 AM on December 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


(Not the easy answer, of course. There are no easy answers.)
posted by Dysk at 8:00 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My son went to kindergarten not knowing how to read, and then, like magic, they taught him how to read. It was wonderful. Once you can read, the whole world is open to you.

The Atlantic seems hell-bent on whipping up a generation of fearful parents who think their kids will grow up to be no-goodniks if they don't hew tightly to the exact right parenting philosophy. I think kids are tougher and more resilient than the Atlantic thinks they are.
posted by escabeche at 8:00 AM on December 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


I live in Memphis, Tennessee. The public preschool program here is targeted to low-income kids and kids with special needs. My kid goes to a private preschool/day care; he will start public kindergarten next year.

Are we surprised that lower-income kids and kids with special needs don't outperform the overall population in public schools? Especially when you can attend an "optional" school by virtue of where you live, not necessarily by having to qualify?

[Contrast: We won the lottery for free preschool in Rhode Island for this year, but moved away before attending. I think that program was more generally-targeted, since we qualified. Also, private daycare in Rhode Island cost literally twice as much as in Tennessee.]
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:00 AM on December 20, 2015


I really appreciate Eyebrows McGee's comment about funding & the difficulty of effecting change. A few years ago I did a big reading project on school funding, and one thing I learned that I hadn't expected was that a great deal of the money that comes into schools is pre-earmarked, and local distracts can have very little control over how they get to spend it. So, you wonder why your local district is building a new swimming pool for the middle school instead of upgrading aging computers? They got state money that was earmarked for capital improvements. Why is the elementary school getting a laptop for every fifth grader, when the money could be better used for classroom materials? They got a foundation grant that could only be used for technology, or a direct donation of the computers themselves. I was surprised by how little is actually in the control of the local district.
posted by not that girl at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2015 [23 favorites]


Sugata Mitra (he of the Self Organized Learning classroom) would disagree that there's much value in learning things you could Google, given the finite time children are in a classroom. I actually disagree with Mitra about quite a few things but he argues that memorization and sitting in desks to do so is an educational style that benefits a world where huge numbers of office bureaucrats are needed in order to make the wheels of Empire turn (a pre-computer world). If we're no longer living in that world, that skill set is far less useful and it's only the weight of tradition that keeps us so married to it.

Project based learning in any form, using computers or not, isn't for the purpose of memorizing fast facts. (I was privileged enough to attend small, innovative private schools for most of my life and let me tell you, I can do a lot of things but tell you when Fillmore was president is not one of them.)

I'd me much more interested in computer and information literacy being taught hard core, early and often. Right now we sort of have the worst of all possible worlds. Ubiquitous computers/screens and not many people who really know what to do with them. (I recently attended a conference session given by the IT director of a rural-suburban school district who is apparently a Jedi because he somehow convinced the school board to adopt an entirely open source philosophy to all classroom computing. One result is that the high school has a 1:1 laptop program and all the laptops run Linux and all the kids have root level access. The help desk is also partially student run. I've been in educational technology for a decade and I literally gasped audibly, as did many of the attendees around me. What he was describing would make our local school IT departments have to run for their fainting couches, from which they may never arise.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:04 AM on December 20, 2015 [24 favorites]


The Atlantic seems hell-bent on whipping up a generation of fearful parents who think their kids will grow up to be no-goodniks if they don't hew tightly to the exact right parenting philosophy. I think kids are tougher and more resilient than the Atlantic thinks they are.

But the article wasn't at all about children not being able to read. It was about children who can't think.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Things change. I am old enough to recall when there were articles suggesting that sending kids to pre-school would be great for a jump startin their education.
posted by Postroad at 8:07 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Public education is, for the most part, a factory for creating employees. That factory is run by its own products, who think the factory works quite well, thank you.
posted by davebush at 8:15 AM on December 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


There is nothing wrong with having your kids know things in their head that yes, they could Google if they had to.

Agree and this is one of the biggest unaddressed disconnects in public school today. It's this huge pink elephant in the room and very few teachers dare approach it. Teachers know:

1. Most of our students have less curiosity than in previous generations. They struggle with initiative and problem solving skills.

2. There is this amazing thing called the internet.

3. Because of the internet, students can get answers to information that they used to have to memorize.

4. Bloom's taxonomy tells us that memorization is the lowest of all cognitive demands as it emphasizes content, not skills. Educators should be aiming for higher level thinking skills like the ability to analyze, evaluate, synthesize and create, but so few do.

Instead of embracing the internet as a substitute for the lowest cognitive demand, why not take it as read that facts can be easily searched and the real value in education should be in learning how to use this information.

Recent example (I'm a special education teacher so I'm not the direct instructor in any of these examples): my 9th graders are learning about world religion and their assessment about Islam was to be able to define 30 vocabulary words and explain the Five Pillars of Islam. But if you were to ask any of them how and why Islam spread and what made Islam different from other religions and what it means to be a practicing Muslim, they couldn't tell you. They can tell you what zakat literally means but not why it's meaningful. They can't evaluate for shit because nobody is asking them to.

Other example: my higher level math students do worksheet after worksheet, memorizing formulas and plugging in variables. But there are websites and apps that can do the exact same thing and if you were to ask any of these kids how they could apply this math in life, they would have no idea. If you were to tell them baseball or golf or billiards was all angles and all math, they'd be like, "Shut up, it is not."

So many teachers know the internet is there, they know kids are tech savvy and they're not taking this amazing tool and repurposing it to create people who can analyze and create.
posted by kinetic at 8:15 AM on December 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


"Sorry to give you a political solution to your maths problem, but to me that is the blindingly obvious answer."

Except that local school boards may levy property taxes and, in rare situations, regressive sales tax of a half-penny or so. So, given that you ran for school board to come up with this million dollars to shrink class sizes, what is your answer?

Your solution is only "blindingly obvious" if you don't know how schools are funded.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:19 AM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


So, given that you ran for school board to come up with this million dollars to shrink class sizes, what is your answer?

I think it's a given that the solution needs to go way beyond the school board level.
posted by Dysk at 8:22 AM on December 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


They can't evaluate for shit because nobody is asking them to.

Well, that's the thing. Nothing is even interdisciplinary anymore. It's all about the test of that subject.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The first few years of their life are critical for brain growth and development. Literally, pathways are formed and their brains actually grow and develop strength.

kinetic, I don't disagree with what you've written upthread. But I kinda feel like with regard to screens/the Internet, that ship has sailed. We've been debating what online activity does to the adult brain (much less the toddler brain) since well before "Is Google Making Us Stupid," right? I mean most of us who are... hm, I'm 48 so I don't know where the cutoff would be--but anyway most of us who are well into our adult lives--have felt the changes during our lifetime in the way our brains function.

I think the human brain is going to work in some pretty fundamentally different ways in coming generations. This may mean a loss in terms of creativity, attention span, curiosity, socialization--in who knows what other ways. But aren't we just going to have to adapt? To me the change seems inevitable even if in many ways undesirable. Even if parents today could realistically be persuaded to block toddlers' screen time, what happens in the next generation?

I have four kids; the youngest is almost ten, so none of them as tiny kids had the kind of screen access that children have today. But I have every expectation that their children will have far more.

On preview... you may have addressed this some in your last comment,
So many teachers know the internet is there, they know kids are tech savvy and they're not taking this amazing tool and repurposing it to create people who can analyze and create.

I do think that's where efforts should be focused.
posted by torticat at 8:27 AM on December 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think it's a given that the solution needs to go way beyond the school board level.

In the US (where the FPP article is about), school control is highly decentralized, just like how we have decentralized our police forces. National and state policies certainly matter a great deal, but implementation, hiring, and funding are largely in the hands of local districts and their elected boards. Just like with policing, it is a totally different model from how most of the rest of the world does things, and while there are certainly advantages to it, it also creates barriers to some of the supposedly easy fixes that get proposed.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:32 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


A reform of that system might well be a necessary part of the solution.
posted by Dysk at 8:35 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Higher taxes on high earners....Sorry to give you a political solution to your maths problem, but to me that is the blindingly obvious answer.

But in the US, schools are funded locally. That's why there are excellent schools in towns with $$$ and worse schools in places with less $. As long as schools are locally funded, the disparity will continue.
posted by kinetic at 8:36 AM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Even without reforming the entire funding system (which frankly would be a good idea in my opinion) you could offer federal or state grants to school boards, and fund those with sensible taxation.
posted by Dysk at 8:39 AM on December 20, 2015


I also think class anxiety has a lot to do with the push for earlier and earlier academics. If you are middle class, there is no guarantee your children will be, and this is very keenly felt.

I think this plays a bigger role than screens or methodology -- as of recently, if trends continue, it's more likely for your child not to be as successful as you are.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:42 AM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Anti-screen comments:
1. I do think screen time is a huge problem
2. When kids are using screens, that development does not happen, period.
3. And it's because their goddamned parents have had them playing with screens since birth. [...] Let's start by taking away the tablets, phones and other screens. It's not doing them any favors.
4. Old AAP advisory? Check.

Anti-anti-screen comments:
1. screen time is a red herring.
2. laying the blame on screen time is simplistic
3. I am worried teachers are blaming screens and missing opportunities.
4. "Screen time" is the bogeyman of the generation before mine.

You know what I don't see anywhere? The NEW American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines:
The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
There is literally NO reason to be having the same old arguments about screens and screen time. They're just class-markers and parent-shaming at this point, all based on old, deprecated, evidence-free recommendations from the AAP.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:43 AM on December 20, 2015 [67 favorites]


The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media.

That's the same argument everyone has been having forever. See any Metafilter thread on unboxing videos or YouTube voice videos. Parents are not policing content at all.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:48 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


> no, we really like his school and his teachers, they do a lot to support his learning, and he loves it there

I sent my daughter's teacher an e-mail asking that she be given more challenging homework, and possibly even more of it. Her teacher said no, she wasn't going to give her more homework, that my daughter's activities and free time and reading for pleasure were more important, and that my daughter could do some other work that was more her speed and blow off the worksheets and just write her teacher a note saying what she'd done.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:52 AM on December 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


A reform of that system might well be a necessary part of the solution.

Easy to say, but it comes across a bit like this. That's not to say that replacing property-tax-based funding of public education in the U.S. with a more equitable scheme is impossible to imagine or execute, but there are far too many obstacles for the situation to change quickly (as if by a finger-snap, even). Moreover, I'm pretty sure that the folks like Eyebrows who are engaging at the local level have a pretty good idea of what national-level policy changes might help, but in the short- and medium-term, most local school boards perforce must make do with what they have.
posted by metaquarry at 8:52 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My 9th graders are learning about world religion and their assessment about Islam was to be able to define 30 vocabulary words and explain the Five Pillars of Islam, but if you were to ask any of them how and why Islam spread and what made Islam different from other religions and what it means to be a practicing Muslim, they couldn't tell you.

In the 80s, when I was taking an (AP) US history class in high school, the quizzes we got at the end of each chapter of the book emphasized all kinds of trivia; essentially, testing that you had studied the text of the chapter thoroughly without so much regard to the bigger picture. I am lazy and didn't bother to study, and generally did poorly on those quizzes. By contrast, the midterm and final exams had to ask much broader questions because of the greater scope of the material. I really loved history, so despite not studying one minute more for those tests, I typically had one of the top scores in the class.

I guess what I'm saying is that -- for better or worse -- there's nothing *new* about this kind of instruction by memorizing trivia.
posted by Slothrup at 8:56 AM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


A reform of that system might well be a necessary part of the solution.

While I, as someone who is no great fan of many aspects of education in the US, would agree that significant structural reform is needed, there are two important caveats. One is that any reform will still need to acknowledge and work with the historical, constitutional, and legislative reasons why education is decentralized here, and recognize that those issues can't be handwaved away. The other is that there are advantages as well as problems to a decentralized system, and reforms should build on those advantages rather than throwing away baby with bathwater.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:09 AM on December 20, 2015


I guess what I'm saying is that -- for better or worse -- there's nothing *new* about this kind of instruction by memorizing trivia.

It's an archaic method of assessing what a student knows. Wouldn't school be better if instead of being forced to memorize so many trivial things they could look up, we used the internet to unlock higher level thinking skills?
posted by kinetic at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know what I don't see anywhere? The NEW American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines:

That's because there aren't any.

The AAP convened an invitation-only Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium in May, 2015. At that time, they wrote that formal recommendations are forthcoming, and the role of media in children’s lives will be the focus of the Pediatrics for the 21st Century (Peds21) program prior to the 2016 AAP National Conference & Exhibition.
posted by kinetic at 9:26 AM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Maybe let's take a step back on the kind of weird "it's a simple political solution" thing over school funding? It's not like people here think we shouldn't fund schools, so it really seems like people are fighting over something they don't in fact disagree about.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:30 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


One more nugget to toss blame onto: How much exploratory time would our little kids have back if we stopped feeding our money and their time to the the recreational sports teams/dance class machines?


My 8-year-old is a competitive gymnast, an avid dog trainer, and a baker. These are all much more valuable things than what he has learned in school (though, having homeschooled two of his older siblings, I admit it was nice to have it be someone else's job to teach him to read). There's very little in school for kids to be passionate about, or for them to engage with and get real results. Some kids will find those things in certain academic subjects, like science or, at higher levels, robotics. But when my kid works with a dog on a new skill, he's making the dog happy, he's exercising a talent, he's learning patience. If he's doing it in the context of a class, he's meeting other people who share his interests, and learning in a context where, rather than competition, there's encouragement (you should have heard his Intro to Agility class erupt with cheers when a dog that had been afraid of one of the obstacles finally mastered it).

He's learned a lot at school, and, in general, I've been impressed with his teachers. We're in an affluent school district where there are sufficient resources, the money for things like classroom aides, regular professional development days, teachers for art, gym, and music, a professional librarian. But the stack of worksheets he brings home doesn't compare to what he learns in his other activities.

Just this morning, he decided to bake some cookies. He made a mistake measuring his flour, as it turned out, and his dough failed. But he learned from that failure, including things like: it's OK to fail sometimes, and when you look at your dry ingredients and think, "That doesn't look like very much flour," you should listen to your internal voice and check your recipe. He and I also did some research about how it might be possible to fix his dough, and learned a lot from that as well.

I do take your point, though, in that, for the Tiny Tornado, it's his own drive and interests that have him in gymnastics and dog classes and in the kitchen baking. This is his exploratory time. Making extra-curriculars an expectation on top of school is a different matter.
posted by not that girl at 9:35 AM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Funny, reading this article, I didn't once think about my daughter's experience with preschool. She loved it. She was reading at a very young age, and enjoyed memorizing things. But they did have more fun, too, dissecting and eating squid, for example.

Instead, I thought of my job as a high school teacher. Phrases like "preoccupation with accountability," "teachers steer students through a highly structured schedule," and "tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction" kept jumping out at me. This sort of thing is becoming the obligatory pedagogical model.

I sat down with my bosses in September and discussed our philosophical differences. I believed that my methods were adequately preparing students for college. (I didn't dare bring up the word "fun," even though it is supposedly one of our school district's "core values.") They told me how I should be using techniques like the 90-second "pair and share" time as part of my scripted lesson plans. I said, at one point, that we'd have to "agree to disagree." I soon realized that that phrase does not work in a boss-worker relationship.

I'm not blaming my bosses. They are wonderful people. But my ratings as an effective teacher are based on an extremely rigid set of metrics they are required to use which are based only on classroom observation. Observing "direct instruction." As an English teacher, I wish that my students' skills in writing and actively engaging with text were part of my evaluation.

So I'm retiring in June. It's been thirty wonderful years (notwithstanding the comically shifting sands of pedagogical pieties handed down from above). Working with kids is a delight. Comments above are correct: all those years of worksheets don't kill the natural creativity of the human spirit.

And now I'll have an extra sixty hours a week to do my own reading and writing and music-making.
posted by kozad at 9:39 AM on December 20, 2015 [23 favorites]


Good thing they're trying to make parents anxious, because, clearly, there isn't enough scrutiny on how parents are either trying too hard or not trying hard enough.

At any rate, I'm inclined to say this article is bullshit. My kids are in or just out of those sorts of preschools, and they're not, like, damaged. They're happy, fun kids. They just know how to write their names, count, etc. At times it's a little startling how much more they know than I did at that age, but they're not maladjusted or traumatized. Their preschool wasn't a "fraught" space in the least.

In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrasts and The Atlantic can go fuck itself.
posted by jpe at 10:10 AM on December 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


As someone who has taught undergraduate writing in a research institution for two years now - primarily to students who are used to getting A's - I sometimes wonder what it was like fifteen years ago.

Many of my students have decent study habits when it comes to memorizing facts, because they've been drilled relentlessly on it, but give them something that requires critical thinking or problem solving and they're lost. They want everything to be boiled down to an algorithm or checklist, and without that they have no idea what to do. They can't self-direct - not their thinking or their work.

I don't know whether the problem has always been this bad. If it hasn't, I don't know how much of it is due to more and more kids going to university.

Whatever it is, it's a scandal (even if it's a longstanding one). These kids are not getting these very important experiences before they reach university, and by then many of their habits are set and are extremely hard to break. It sucks for everyone; these kids have so much potential that's just never been explored.

And everyone, including the outliers, gets a lowered quality of education as a result. We can't just fail the kids who lack these much-needed, basic skills -- there are too many of them, and that's not a good solution anyway. University becomes the new high school, with lowered expectations, and classes tailored toward students with this restricted ability.

It sucks all round.

(w.r.t. to the screen thing - man, I wish my kids would look stuff up on Google when they want an answer. they all know how to do it, but there is a lack of curiosity and ability to think outside of the classroom. if it's something that hasn't been explicitly covered, it's irrelevant and doesn't matter.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:11 AM on December 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


If I could favorite this x100 I would do so--
davebush--Relatedly, it seems like childhood daydreaming is dying too. There's value in sitting in the backseat of the car, staring out the window and just...thinking, as opposed to watching yet another screening of Shrek 2 on the back of mom's seat.

Here's a quote that I wrote down at least 30 years ago that was definitely a premonition of sorts--
"We have kept our children so busy with 'useful' and 'improving' activities that we are in danger of raising a generation of young people who are terrified of silence, of being alone with their own thoughts." -- Eda J. Leshan
posted by bookmammal at 10:16 AM on December 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't know whether the problem has always been this bad.

I remember being in Ivy League philosophy classes about 20 years ago. Philosophy is a lot of critically thinking through hypotheticals and reasoning, and I'm a little amazed I didn't strain something from how hard I rolled my eyes at the dumb things people said. They just couldn't grasp how hypotheticals worked.

Anyhoo, I don't know what other people do, but I sort of assume it's my job to drill my kids on how to think. The schools get the facts, I get the critical thinking.
posted by jpe at 10:18 AM on December 20, 2015


Also I do realize my four-year-old is refusing to say the Pledge just to be contrary, not out of any great principle of free speech, and yet he still has that right and I'm not going to LIE about it.

Being contrary is a great principle of free speech.
posted by el io at 10:20 AM on December 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


At times it's a little startling how much more they know than I did at that age, but they're not maladjusted or traumatized.

The article isn't claiming they are. The article is claiming that most of that generation is harmed for not knowing how to think creatively, on their own, without having to know things that are fed to them by Google.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:22 AM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]



And it's because their goddamned parents have had them playing with screens since birth

If this is your opinion of the parents of the children in your class, then it's no wonder that you see what you see.

I volunteered at an elementary school and the kids here are absolutely fine. Just as fine as we were when we were kids. It's a delight to see them play, they have friends, play dates, they're curious, they are kind. Children here grow up with screens just as much as children in the US, and I don't recognise this at all. The kids are fine. Some schools are not. It sucks if your child's teacher thinks that you are a "goddamned parent".
posted by blub at 10:47 AM on December 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


Last time we heard from Christakis, she was making a similar complaint about Yale students. Previously.
posted by one_bean at 11:20 AM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Parents are not policing content at all.

Citation needed. I know a lot of parents of children of varying ages and the one who never policed any kind of content (mostly tv rather than other screens because her kid was a toddler 8 years ago) stuck out as really unusual. The vast majority of (middle class or middle class marked, admittedly) parents I know have rules about quantity of screen time and content. People ask us all the time what our own rules are (we actually don't have any yet because Mini Lorensen is not actually all that interested in screens unless he's sick or super bored for weather related reasons).
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:36 AM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


We are SO LUCKY. Our 3.3 year old goes to a "forest school" in Seattle - all class-time is spent in the "classroom" in the middle of the Arboretum, and I mean ALL. Rain, snow, sleet, heat - outside. Almost 4 hours 2 days a week for her program (I wish she could have gotten into the 3 or 5 day but there's a huge waiting list), and she is absolutely flourishing.

The kids observe and study the things around them, keep journals about birds, learn about mushrooms, walk in muddy messes, build things out of bark and rocks, learn songs about the days of the week and months of the year, learn about being stewards of the environment ("You don't leave ANYTHING in the forest, Mommy!"), and learn to deal with the discomforts of changing weather. It is incredible.

The fact that the teachers manage to handle all of these kids in the often shitty weather, WHILE actually teaching them life skills, WHILE the kids are sitting on beds of pine needles in the rain? They are amazing and I can't believe how fortunate we are.

These kinds of schools are starting to crop up around the US - something to look into if you live in a relatively temperate climate. I think it's also pretty affordable - not free, to be sure, but for Nora it's like $300/month and it is the best money I spend.
posted by tristeza at 11:42 AM on December 20, 2015 [33 favorites]


Oh, and it's called Fiddleheads. Can you even??
posted by tristeza at 11:43 AM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wow, only one comment even mentions Head Start/Early Head Start. A pity; HS and EHS are over 50 years old and focused on providing free quality ECE and comprehensive services to families and communities with the highest need and lowest access (migrant, income <100% federal poverty level, homeless, foster, native american/american indian/first-nations, etc.).
posted by subbes at 12:01 PM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you're interested in the workings of "play-based" preschool, I highly recommend Teacher Tom's Blog. He's very good at being able to step back and let the kids work things out themselves; this post about using informative statements instead of directive statements sums up a lot of his philosophy but pretty much everything he posts is a good read.
posted by stefanie at 12:03 PM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sticking tristeza's outdoor school into the back of my head for some years from now. What an incredible program! (And proud that my alma mater is involved.)

My fiancé is one of those concrete tactile kinesthetic types, I'm anticipating at lease one of his kids will be as well, and resources for those kinds of children are few and far between in my experience. I'm perpetually afraid that nothing's changed in the time between his childhood education -- disengaged, worksheet-based -- to create better opportunities for those who shine in the physical side of reality. (It took him until 24 and two failed starts at college before he found out it's ok to be that kind of person and that there are, in fact, jobs you can enjoy and excel at.)
posted by Snacks at 3:18 PM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


But in the US, schools are funded locally.

Not everywhere.

In my state, all of the revenue is collected by the state and distributed via an equalization formula per pupil.
On a statewide basis, roughly 60-70% of school funding comes from the state, with local property taxes and various other small sources making up the rest.
Local funding is further restricted by state laws limiting tax property tax rates.
posted by madajb at 3:38 PM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do think often what's on the screen is more engaging than school learning and that's a huge systemic problem

Screens can be addictive! I was fine with TV; I couldn't really throw away my adolescence on 13 channels of TV. One gets bored. I did manage, however, to throw away much of my adolescence after my friend introduced me to his 2400-baud modem and bulletin board systems; I'd give anything to have those high-school evenings back. I cemented during that period behaviors, responses to emotions, that would lead me in unhealthy directions for the rest of my life. It was so easy to sit in the comfy basement, reading and writing and downloading, compared to the other things I could be doing. Things that would have been harder for me, but if overcome, would have allowed me to develop a healthier sense of self and purpose. I'm saying that that "screen", that ancient tech, was potentially a big enabler of missed opportunities for me. Screens don't grab everyone the same way, of course, but they are horrible amplifiers of problems for those they do grab. So I can't even imagine, thinking of personal technology as potentially addictive, handing it to young children, and the fundamental cognitive, perceptual, and motivational shifts that must occur upon heavy exposure. What we have now is like TV x1000 and I find comparisons between the TV of yore and modern media/tech to be equivalent to assuming that if marijuana doesn't ruin you, heroin won't either.

I feel that saying "often what's on the screen is more engaging than school learning and that's a huge systemic problem" overlooks the addictive nature of the screen, and is like a parent saying "the problem is that ice cream is more engaging than broccoli so we need to find a way to improve vegetables". No, what's needed is the recognition that ice cream is a treat and not nutritious and if it's a fundamental nutrient it will lead to disaster. More generally, the recognition that it's not just the body for which things can be inherently healthy or unhealthy, but the mind.

I had two more paragraphs here (counting apologies for commenting as non-parent, topicality, etc), but nobody likes the sniff of moral panic here so I'll shut it now. ;)
posted by sylvanshine at 4:04 PM on December 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I had the exact opposite experience. During the 3 years of junior high when I could go an entire school day without another human being even acknowledging my existence except to say the meanest thing they could think of, that 2400 baud modem gave me friends and a feeling like I wasn't the biggest loser weirdo basketcase hopeless person that everybody told me I was. In much the same way that kids since then have been experiencing from Usenet/blogs/Livejournal/MySpace/etc. Screens can save lives too.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:24 PM on December 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


More generally, the recognition that it's not just the body for which things can be inherently healthy or unhealthy, but the mind.

But, see, this is actually one of the assumptions I question, both in how I live my life and how I parent my kids. At school, they get this very dichotomous "good food/bad food" model, but in real life, any food can have a place in a healthy diet—and "healthy" can look very different for different people. It breaks my heart when I hear a 9-year-old say, as they're given an ice cream cone, "I know this is bad for me, but..."

With our kids, we talk about how food carries many benefits, including calories for energy, protein, vitamins and other nutrients. But also pleasure in taste and texture, and social bonding. All foods have some of these benefits, and many foods have them in varying amounts and ratios. Ice cream, for instance, has calcium. It also has sugar and fat. Soda and many candies have quick energy in the form of sugar, but no protein and few or no other nutrients, but can provide satisfaction in taste and texture, and contribute to social bonding (candy as a gift, the bowl of candy out on someone's desk, the community fun of Halloween).

I tell my kids there's no such thing as a food that is simply "good" or "bad." They're all good, just more or less appropriate or helpful in various combinations, amounts, and situations.

Trying to give kids overly-simple answers to complex questions (like "what does a good diet look like?") is a major mistake parents and educators make. It's not that different from abstinence-only sex education.

See also: language. My kids and I had the following conversation while watching a movie the other day:

Tiny Tornado, age 8: "Was that a bad word?"

Me: "Come on, honey, don't make me give my language lecture while I'm trying to enjoy a movie."

Word Boy, age 11, with an eyeroll, and in the tone of someone who's heard it all too many times: "Mom doesn't believe in 'bad words.' Profanity serves a function when used appropriately, just as other words do."

Me: "I'm glad the message is getting through."
posted by not that girl at 4:33 PM on December 20, 2015 [29 favorites]


Screentime saved my life, as someone who was in an abusive household. But my story is strange at best and at the beginning of the Internet age (I was born in 85, and graduated highscool in 2004). Those things would not fly today at all.

Having interaction via screentime is useful. I think it is important though to allow children to explore that what's and whys of a computer. Find a broken one, take it apart. Let them figure these things out. There us so much more to screens than gaming apps, if parents encourage children to explore beyond what they see and works.

I'm not saying that people need to be electrical engineers, but to atleast know what's happening.

Maybe I'm arrogant, but I do see many people with few critical thinking skills who made it thorough college and do just fine. They have hiccups and get confused, but overall their lives aren't that bad. The ugly world of bureaucracy needs non critical thinkers. Of course it causes tons of difficulty with problematic belief systems, creating all the -isms we discuss at length here.

In terms of children I think everyone needs the chance to do their best, and the disparities in classrooms and worksheets don't help especially in childhood education. As a kid I had so much trouble completing assignments in kindergarden, because WTF and my memory was well a kindergardener's. Essentially my parents were mandated to hold my memory so they didn't get a lecture. (To be clear, the assignments were more like bring a leaf to school. )

I think more research and discussion needs to be done on how much learning a kid can do in a day. Like I know after a hard day at work with tons if new information by the time I get home I'm done and need to stop. But kids don't get that luxury, they have so many more things to do at the end of their school day.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:49 PM on December 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I did manage, however, to throw away much of my adolescence after my friend introduced me to his 2400-baud modem and bulletin board systems; I'd give anything to have those high-school evenings back.

That's not how I feel at all about the time I spent online as an adolescent.

I will say though that I was given very little access to TV/passive screen use as a child compared to other people in my generation and I'm pretty sure it was good for me. From age six or seven I spent a lot of time in the computer but it was at first largely a *part* of my imaginative play - and then I started teaching myself all sorts of stuff exploring the early web. So if I ever had kids (not really my plan but) I'd just try really hard to instill in them the idea that screens are a tool for creativity and exploration. Obviously screens are an avenue for human connection too now more than ever but I don't think I'd need to teach them that part.
posted by atoxyl at 5:58 PM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually I think the only reason I would ever want children is so I could teach them to code.
posted by atoxyl at 6:01 PM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sorry for the triple comment but my last one got me thinking about something (which is actually *more* on-topic). My comment about teaching my kids to code was inspired by my own dad, who got me interested in parts of his own field (chemistry/molecular bio) when I was *really* little. I'd go to work with him, he'd show me stuff around the lab, I'd ask him questions about that and about other stuff, he'd answer them - it was all really fun and driven by my own curiosity but the result was that I was always *ridiculously* far ahead in science in school. Now obviously I'm incredibly lucky to have been a research professor's kid. My actual point - and I think some other people in the thread are getting at this too - is that I often see this false dichotomy between high academic standards and unstructured time. But that's nonsense - learning is fun if you don't ruin it with bullshit worksheets.
posted by atoxyl at 6:23 PM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Anyway, DOWN WITH BUSYWORK.

One of the most baffling experiences I remember having after the transition from primary school to high school was the requirement to do maths worksheets containing literally hundreds of the kind of problem I'd already known how to do for the last three years. I couldn't see the point, I refused to do them, and received the first failing grade of my life as a result.

What I wish somebody had pointed out to me was that the point of those worksheets was to build speed - to make that kind of problem something I could do so quickly that it just merged into the background of thinking, never really presenting again as a problem, instead becoming a mental tool for use in dealing with bigger problems.

All the way through school, I had it in my mind that the purpose of school was to learn how to do things. I was good at learning how to do things, so this was a very convenient belief. I basically cruised all the way to year 10, simply on the strength of wasting less time on errors than my classmates. But after learning the times tables in third grade, I never again really applied myself to rote learning and practice - I simply had no clue that learning how to do things quickly was useful, or that the only way to learn how to do something quickly is to do lots and lots of it.

As a result, I never bothered memorizing trig formulae, or integration formulae; I would tackle all those problems by deriving the relationships I needed from first principles, which always got me there and convinced me I actually knew what I was doing. But of course I eventually ran out of native cunning, and when I did, the competence crash was overwhelming. I barely squeaked through maths in my final year of high school, simply because I could not complete the work fast enough.

So I think there's a place for some amount of busywork. But the student needs to understand that it does have a purpose, or they won't actually use it to build speed; it will just be an embuggerance that they're wasting perfectly good creativity on figuring out ways to avoid.

I don't think there is any place for it at all in pre-school.
posted by flabdablet at 6:31 PM on December 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


I can't cite and might not be exactly right about this, but my understanding is that there are no studies that show a benefit to homework before 5th grade, with one exception: those studies where the measure is *parental report* of how the kid is doing.

--------

I haven't read the whole thread, but I'd love to discuss how far does this go. Can we make the same arguments in middle school? In high school?
posted by spbmp at 7:58 PM on December 20, 2015


flabdablet: “So I think there's a place for some amount of busywork.”
I ran into precisely the same problem you did with regard to math for precisely the same reason. No one ever made it clear that those problem sheets were practice not busywork.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:57 PM on December 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


On the one hand, possibly I make decisions based on things from YA fiction more often than I necessarily should. But on the other hand, I suspect "would Dolores Umbridge like this curriculum?" is nevertheless a reasonable framework for assessment. If it seems like she might be down with a given educational practice, it's bad. If it would fill her with white-hot rage, it's good.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:26 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I volunteered at an elementary school and the kids here are absolutely fine. Just as fine as we were when we were kids.

I appreciate that's what you saw as a volunteer. As a veteran teacher, it's not true for me or other teachers.

In the last 10 years kids have become less inquisitive, less willing to try hard for more than a few seconds, less able to self-organize, less able to be bored and less able to be social.

A lot of teachers (and clearly I am one of them), believe that this dramatic shift in ability is probably because most of our kids were playing iPad games since they could hold one. During critical developmental years, their parents gave them screens to play with.

Every day, I literally see hundreds of high schoolers sitting at lunch tables on their phones and completely ignoring each other. It is depressing as fuck.

So, allow me to rephrase what I originally wrote. I won't parent bash and refer to them as goddamned parents, but I will ask those parents to come into our cafeteria and watch several hundred teenagers all ignoring each other while they all play on their phones.

If this is your opinion of the parents of the children in your class, then it's no wonder that you see what you see.

You know, that's not cool and as a really fucking dedicated teacher, it's hurtful and not fair. I'm allowed to be distressed by the quantum change I've seen in kids in the last 10 years, a change that is mostly explained by their gaming in early developmental years. It's deeply unfair to twist that distressed feeling of, "Goddamn it, what were their parents thinking?" into somehow, me and thousands of other creative and worksheet-hating teachers are the cause of this problem (which granted, you say doesn't exist).
posted by kinetic at 3:05 AM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


on their phones and completely ignoring each other

Given that phones are communication devices, those two things are certainly not mutually exclusive. They may be interacting in different ways.
posted by Dysk at 3:12 AM on December 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Dysk got there before I could. Pretend I said that same thing also.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:13 AM on December 21, 2015


the quantum change I've seen in kids in the last 10 years, a change that is mostly explained by their gaming in early developmental years

Also, do you have any studies or cites for this? Because otherwise you're really just presenting opinion or conjecture as fact here.
posted by Dysk at 3:13 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Granted, some are texting each other instead of talking, they're communicating via Instagram and Snapchat, most definitely. But many are playing games and ignoring each other. What they're not doing is actually talking.

Also, do you have any studies or cites for this? Because otherwise you're really just presenting opinion or conjecture as fact here.

Yeah, there are loads of studies that indicate excessive screen time isn't a good thing for kids. And in all the studies I've seen, not a one suggests that excessive screen time is good for babies and toddlers. I'm absolutely not talking about older kids and developmental changes; I'm talking specifically about kids up to 5 who are using screens excessively. I've never seen a study indicating this is a good thing.

But I'm not relying on those studies. Ask a teacher. We could be wrong but it's what we see every day.
posted by kinetic at 3:33 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think that the issue here is that we're literally getting into "kids today" territory in a way that smacks strongly of good-old-daysism. Were the Baby Boomers famously diligent students? Was Generation X known for their ambition and involvement? Is there, in short, any reason to assume that the vast bulk of people were anything but mediocre at some point in the past?
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:39 AM on December 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


In the last 10 years kids have become less inquisitive, less willing to try hard for more than a few seconds, less able to self-organize, less able to be bored and less able to be social.

I don't know... When I was in high school (1997-2001), a lot of the teachers made comments like that (possibly with the exception of the "less able to be social" part) as well.

I'm not sure they were wrong, necessarily, but what they observed certainly wasn't caused by my fellow students and I having been "playing iPad games since [we] could hold one," since tablets and smartphones didn't really exist at the time and certainly didn't exist when we were young children.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:47 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd blame teachers assigning busywork way way before I'd blame games. Assigning busywork is naturally going to make kids actively dislike learning, while any form of play is at worst a distraction from better play. Arguably crushing creativity is exactly what such busywork is designed to do.

I'd rank corporations, schools, and parents feeding the kids badly as less significant than teachers assigning busywork, but more important than video games, well hyping them up on sugar is obviously going to destroy their focus.

I learned to program around age 7 basically for the purpose of writing my own video games. I vaguely knew games existed, but none were provided for me, so I wrote them. It helped enormously that I'd access to a basic interpreter with sprites to make doing so easy, and that my dad wrote them with me at first.

I'd love to know what the modern version of basic with sprites is, meaning a programming language that's simple enough that a child under 10 can write and understand the code when aided by an adult, and that makes building rudimentary games relatively easy.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:10 AM on December 21, 2015


Ask a teacher. We could be wrong but it's what we see every day.

You can see what is happening, but you cannot see why - at best you can see correlations, which is not quite the same as causation as the old canard goes. You also can't - in your capacity as a teacher at least - observe very young children. If you're suggesting the damage is done by the time they arrive at school, you can no more see what is happening to cause that than the rest of us.

I'll give the linked studies a more thorough read when I can find the actual studies rather than media reporting on them, but a quick once-over seems to indicate that the issue is not actually screens as such, it's the nature of the content being delivered by them, and a lack of time socialising or sleeping. In that sense, screens are not inherently worse than any other activity that you can engage in in isolation, like reading.
posted by Dysk at 6:12 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I still think the core issues lie with how schools run on a daily basis, and the way these discussions so often move from discussing the hours of the week in the classroom to the hours of the week at home always discourages me.

Yes, there will be kids who are continually plugged in; whose parents cobble together daycare with elderly relatives and neighbourhood friends where very young kids end up staring at screens all day.

But as a parent who ran a large moms group and who has watched kids from that group as well as kids from a very strong Montessori move into the public schools here, many kids who are curious and engaged learners simply don't at school because they are not presented with material in a way that engages them.

I could share my son's disastrous grade one year where in math he was forced to do counting sheets through November when he could multiply and divide on the abacus, to (on the flip side) his one-month project to "invent something that works, complete a written 5 page booklet about it including a labelled diagram, and prepare an elevator speech for an inventor's conference" -- in October of grade one. At home. By March he had done the (to him) sensible thing of not completing any work and his teacher did not mention it for three weeks, when she started calling him "koo koo head" in front of the class. Charming.

Or I could point out the holiday cycle I noticed when I worked in a school for three years as a special we assistant in the early 90s...every Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's, Easter, Mother's Day, the same tired poems and word searches and crafts, year after year, where the kids, bored, are completing the fifth "wrap the tissue paper square around the base of the pencil, dip in glue, place on sheet" craft of their pre-grade-2 lives while they get set for another party. How many pumpkins, really, do they need to cut out? Sure, it's cute, the classrooms are pretty, the parents smile when it comes home but the underlying message to me is that you get the kids maybe halfway engaged in a unit and then wham, it's time to decorate the halls again. It's boring.

And no, that's not a huge deal but it's death to true engaged learning by a thousand cuts...my child goes deep, when he got interested in Pompeii he taught himself enough Italian to puzzle out the guide I brought back from my summer in Italy and he read all the books the local library provided and he is making a tile floor for his Fimo Romans so that he can make Vesuvius errupt for a YouTube video. At school he did acrostic poetry with Christmas words for the fourth time in five years which...ok, I'm a (bad) poet among other things, yay arts education but seriously enough with the acrostic poetry. My child is enduring at least fifty percent of his education, he just gets into a math unit when it "spirals" to something else and he hates writing about his day so his journal entries for the last three years have been "I ate xx for dinner and played with my brother and went to martial arts and went to bed." Now en francais.

And no, I don't talk to teachers about it much. It makes no difference because a) the system demands it, and teachers are largely teachers because they get along with the school system and really almost cannot possibly understand where kids for whom the traditional system does not work are coming from (if he's so smart why doesn't he show it in class?) b) their training largely sucks, I learned more in my adult ed certificate than the B.Ed curriculum had, c) they are classroom rulers whose jobs are often the same one day one to day before retirement with few supports so you never know if your complaint will be in their year of burnout and they will retaliate at your child. And oh yes, d) it's my fault for allowing 45 min of screen time, or not reading enough words or taking my kid out that one day we had to drive to Vaughn to get his brother tested and my aftercare fell through. Or because I work. Or because the other parents do. Okay, look, you get him between 8:45 and 3:15, can we just agree you will teach him.

And you know, it's not a complete disaster...yet. But man it makes me mad when we can't even discuss the classroom.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:39 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


In that sense, screens are not inherently worse than any other activity that you can engage in in isolation, like reading.

I don't think you can say reading and playing screen games use the same cognitive abilities. They require significantly different skills. You use your imagination when reading. You make pictures in your mind. You're forming connections. You're actively decoding words and making sense of things. You're processing information. With a game you're automatically getting positive feedback and rewards (getting to the next level, etc.) by putting in a small amount of effort.
posted by kinetic at 7:08 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know, that's not cool and as a really fucking dedicated teacher, it's hurtful and not fair.
Yeah, you know, as a really fucking dedicated parent it's also hurtful when teachers describe parents in general as "goddamned parents". It really, really does suck when your child's teacher thinks of you that way, even if they would not use those exact words in person.

For me, as a parent, the biggest change between this generation and the previous one is that nowadays every single thing that makes a child not-perfect is the parents (read: mothers) fault. That's a really huge change compared to when I was a kid, and it sucks. I wish there were more solidarity between parents/adults and less criticism. I'm not in the US, maybe this is a regional thing, but I talked about this with people of my parents generation and they all recognize it.

I looked up one of the studies you linked (the last one - the other two did not reference a specific study about screen time and children). It's a cross-sectional study and the authors mention that it is impossible to know if the effect is the other way around: children who have somewhat more psychological problems are more drawn to screens. It's an interesting study nevertheless, since it shows that the more sedentary the time children got, the less psychological problems they had. This association was much stronger than that between screen time and psychological problems, so if you wanted to draw conclusions from this study, I'd say it would be smart to recommend that children spend more time being sedentary, which is kind of counter-intuitive and contrary to other studies.
posted by blub at 7:34 AM on December 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


You make pictures in your mind. You're forming connections. You're actively decoding words and making sense of things. You're processing information. With a game you're automatically getting positive feedback and rewards (getting to the next level, etc.) by putting in a small amount of effort.

We're talking about books for super young kids here though, right? The ones that are mostly bright and exciting pictures, a few simple sentences, and before preschool mainly involve having a parent reading the words?

I mean, I love books, I love reading to my kids, but I'm not sure that getting read to is not getting an automatic positive feed back and rewards the small amount of effort required to sit there and listen to me read. Which btw, is a great thing, I love that my kids associate books with reward. It just seems that since we're talking about preschoolers here, we should probably talk about books the way that preschoolers experience them.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:47 AM on December 21, 2015


[Comment removed; it's okay if folks disagree about the content or even the interpretation of discussion in here, but once it's moving toward "here's how discussion goes on MetaFilter" type analyses that's metacommentary that if it goes anywhere needs to go in MetaTalk.]
posted by cortex at 8:02 AM on December 21, 2015


From way upthread, but I like to think I'm a pretty good example of someone who was real big into computers and video games doing pretty well academically, and I'm 30 now. I mean, hell, "computer nerd" is literally an archetype.

We're about the same age, and I was real big into computers too, but there's a huge difference between the 8 and 16-bit computers we had as kids and omnipresent devices with always-on internet that kids today have access to. Even I would turn off the Amiga at some point and get into bed; now the computer can come right into your bed with you.

Is it a good or bad thing? I'm not sure, but the science suggests not and I'm aware of a massive opportunity cost in my own life from the things I could be doing but am not when I'm scrolling away on my pocket Skinner box. And the change is definitely massive enough that "I had a screen and I'm OK!" doesn't really stand up.
posted by bonaldi at 8:30 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


My 23 month old watches TV in the background most of the day while we're home. This is . . . not at all different than the way I was raised. She is bright and inquisitive and imaginative. She cooks with me. She draws. She makes me get off the couch and do the hot dog dance at the end of the Mickey Mouse show with her. Her favorite thing in the world is swinging. When we go to the park, she chats up older kids. When we go to restaurants, we bring crayons and draw elaborate pictures together on the back of the place mat. She learned snippets of sign language from The Goodnight Show and the ABC song from an ABC mouse commercial. The other night, we watched Melissa the Mermaid on youtube after playing with some mermaid stickers and she was so excited by it ("WOW! MERMAID! WOW!") that she had to run and show her dad.

Anecdotally, the biggest difference indicator I've noticed between the toddlers of my acquaintance who watch a ton of TV and those who don't is who is in daycare and who isn't. Because it's really, really hard to parent a single toddler for 24 hours a day alone and be able to do things like poop and shower without television. I know some parents who do it, and god bless them, but I couldn't. And I definitely wouldn't be able to maintain my real and fulfilling online friendships with people (like the metafilter moms without whom I wouldn't have survived my daughter's infancy) without some screen time myself throughout the day. Anyway, it's possible that by keeping her out of daycare and early preschool--and we've decided to hold off until she's four, at least, which, hey, was more common back in the day when I was a kid, too--she won't be properly socialized (conditioned?) into the behavioral aspects of sitting on your butt in a circle or sitting on your butt at a desk. But if a teacher can't get this kid--who will happily help her grandmother install a bidet or splash in puddles or play with her dollhouse for hours or make you a delicious omelet--engaged, it's sure as hell not my fault, and I don't think it's the fault of Steven Universe (which is playing in the living room as we speak, but we're in her bedroom, where she's carefully dropping quarters into her piggy bank) either.

I can't tell you how many kids I have who are diagnosed with ADHD and Executive Function disorders, but it's just that their brains are used to constant stimulation with colors and noises and hand movements and they literally don't have the ability to sit quietly, take in the world, explore and think and try things.

I'll be frank: this is a vile thing for an educator to say. I'm having Christmas tea today with an ADHD eight-year-old of my acquaintance and her mother, and I can only imagine how hurt they'd be to hear of a teacher saying such things behind her back. She loves to sew (but couldn't focus through a pattern until she was medicated) and draws and writes the most wonderful stories about fairies and loves to play in the woods. She was absolutely suffering in her old school, and that suffering was destroying her family, until she got into an environment with more personalized attention that took her individual needs into account. She's doing great now, but the thought of her teachers placing the blame on her mother or father (who has ADHD too, but just white knuckled his way through school at a time before it was commonly diagnosed) because they let their kid look at a tablet on occasion turns my stomach.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:41 AM on December 21, 2015 [17 favorites]


In that sense, screens are not inherently worse than any other activity that you can engage in in isolation, like reading.

I don't think you can say reading and playing screen games use the same cognitive abilities. They require significantly different skills. You use your imagination when reading. You make pictures in your mind. You're forming connections. You're actively decoding words and making sense of things. You're processing information. With a game you're automatically getting positive feedback and rewards (getting to the next level, etc.) by putting in a small amount of effort.


It's not even just this. The brain works with screens differently. For the past couple of months I've been recovering from a head injury. At first I couldn't look at screens at all for about a week without getting headache and nausea. I was told this was because of the flickering that the brain picks up but we don't normally, consciously notice it. There was also the whole thing of generally resting my brain as well.

What was interesting was what started happening a couple of weeks after the injury when cognitive symptoms started showing up. Beyond just being unsettling what was interesting was the difference I was experiencing in the ability for my brain to function and 'think' when I used paper vs a screen. At times I had problems remembering info I read on the screen but could when it was on paper. Problem solving was worse when using the screen vs paper. But on the other side playing actual video games felt like it was waking parts of my brain up that felt slow, I had more brain energy after an hour of Fallout then after anything else I was doing.

I don't have enough info to judge this is terms of what is better or worse. I'm sure there is research going on in this area. I know there is at least regarding the use of video games in brain injury recovery. My experience just made it really clear that 'thinking' while using a screen vs some other medium uses different parts of the brain.
posted by Jalliah at 8:56 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't think you can say reading and playing screen games use the same cognitive abilities.

"Using screens" can be reading. It can be socialising. I'm very much using a screen to do the former and sort of do the latter right now!
posted by Dysk at 8:56 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hit post too soon, damnit!

With a game you're automatically getting positive feedback and rewards (getting to the next level, etc.) by putting in a small amount of effort.

Not all games, certainly. Nethack, to take the most obvious example, is certainly not a cavalcade of positive feedback and rewards, or a small amount of effort.
posted by Dysk at 8:58 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


> I don't think you can say reading and playing screen games use the same cognitive abilities. They require significantly different skills. You use your imagination when reading. You make pictures in your mind. You're forming connections. You're actively decoding words and making sense of things. You're processing information. With a game you're automatically getting positive feedback and rewards (getting to the next level, etc.) by putting in a small amount of effort.
posted by kinetic at 7:08 AM on December 21 [+] [!]


It seems to me that the problem you've observed is the problem of being raised on a continual drip of ultimately empty positive feedback from screens, rather than the problems of "games" or "screens" per se. I think that's one reason why so many hacker types are like "whuu?," since "automatically getting positive feedback and rewards by putting in a small amount of effort" is more or less the opposite of the experience of programming (rather than just using) computers. If you're forced to deal with the actual recalcitrant material of computation, learning how to work that material is as vital and as vitalizing as learning how other types of material function — as vital and vitalizing as picking up a snakeskin and devising theories of how snakes work, to use an example from way upthread. And learning how to work the material of computation — learning how to hack your own ideas into computers instead of just playing other peoples' ideas — is crucial for most people growing up in America.

Increasingly, professional jobs have a programming component to them. In the early 2000s this wasn't quite true yet — it was close enough to true for working class smartasses like me to be able to secretly automate their own jobs out of existence, but programming wasn't yet mandatory. In the 2020s and especially the 2030s, it will be mandatory, and for more types of job than you expect. well I mean barring widespread societal collapse, which isn't a thing you can necessary bar anymore.

More importantly, increasingly citizenship has a programming component to it. People who are able to throw together simple-but-robust web sites quickly are worth their weight in gold in small political campaigns. Kids who are able to throw together simple-but-robust web sites quickly are worth their weight in platinum. The kid who knows how to hack together a wordpress site (or whatever) at 15 might be leading campus groups at 20 and managing local campaigns before they're 30. Hackers aren't dweebs off in the corner anymore. Hackers are leaders.

Programming aside, people who know how to organize effectively and rabble-rouse effectively on twitter and instagram are people who know how to lead us to a better political future, even if the only things they're organizing right now are FPS squads and MMO raids. Learning these skills early (under responsible supervision) is vital for kids growing up today. They can't be shielded from the Internet all their childhood and then suddenly be expected to know how to effectively deploy rhetoric on it when they become adults.

And even more than this, adult-world politics aside, screen-based communication is a vital space for children to organize out of the sight of their parents and teachers and against the desires of their parents and teachers. Critiques of kids as communicating through text and emoji on their phones instead of out loud remind me very faintly of Anglophones who get freaked out when people around them speak Spanish. Yes, they're talking in a different way, no, you don't understand it, yes, they might even be saying bad things about you right under your nose. Good for them!

Some kids spend too much time playing games that don't teach them anything. That's a problem to watch out for. But some kids — more kids than you think — build working redstone computers in Minecraft. Some kids even organize with other kids to build bigger and better redstone computers than they could have built by themselves. This is so awesome.

By positioning games on screens and objects on screens as unreal and bad, and other objects as good, we overlook how computation is itself a material process with a texture all its own, as complex and eerie and beautiful as snakeskin is. It's easy to overlook this aspect of our machines, since tech industry marketing and tech industry UX design keeps telling us that computers are magical devices that just work rather than balky material machines that can do weird and difficult things, but that have to be carefully coaxed into doing what you want. Hacking on computers — instead of just using them — doesn't make you more docile and stupid. It makes you more powerful and free.

The problem with Kids These Days, if there's a problem with Kids These Days, isn't that they're looking at screens all the time. It's that they're often discouraged against using what they see on those screens to empower themselves, instead shunted off toward skinner box games — and many allegedly "educational' games fall into this category — that give them a continual slow drip of meaningless positive feedback and nothing else.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:16 AM on December 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


This subject hits close to home for me. My son was, until recently, in a state-funded (Georgia lottery) daycare. He did fine up until he was in the three year old room. That particular teacher was oh so fond of worksheets and homework. You can see where this is going. My son is a bright, spirited child. When he gets bored, he acts out.

Also, what the fuck, homework for a three year old? By the time I picked him up at 5:20 every day, he had been at the daycare for 9 hours. A three year old might have the attention span for a worksheet, but a tired three year old certainly doesn't. I started sending his homework folder back with notes from me saying we didn't have time to complete the worksheets.

His last day at that daycare was the one where the teacher issued a one-day suspension for his behavioral outburts. Suspension. For a three year old.

He is now in a Primrose school, which is more Montessori-ish, with an emphasis on active learning. He also has two recesses per day. He has done so much better. We hadn't had a behavior report on him in two months until just last week. And it was an off day. Both of his teachers had called out sick on the same day and he rebelled against the substitute. My wife spoke with his teacher and the school administrator about it and they weren't concerned and recognized it as just a bad day.

We are fortunate that we could afford to place him at that school, which costs $60 more per week than his previous daycare. I feel badly for parents whose children may be labelled a "bad kid" just because they don't fit into the worksheet-based environment.
posted by Fleebnork at 9:20 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that the problem you've observed is the problem of being raised on a continual drip of ultimately empty positive feedback from screens, rather than the problems of "games" or "screens" per se. I think that's one reason why so many hacker types are like "whuu?," since "automatically getting positive feedback and rewards by putting in a small amount of effort" is more or less the opposite of the experience of programming (rather than just using) computers.

Test-driven development, on the other hand, is about adding positive feedback into the programming loop as early as possible: before you start writing code.
posted by pwnguin at 9:21 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


most of our kids were playing iPad games since they could hold one
Just a datapoint: today's high school kids were 9 or 10 when the iPad released (in 2010), those from a few years ago were even older. In 2013 still "only" a third of Americans owned a tablet. People who were younger than 40 were a bit more likely to own one, but still more than half did not.
posted by blub at 9:26 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, and the first iphone did not come out until 2007, which means the children who have experienced the real ubiquity of data/screens their whole lives are at most 11 today; the huge majority of them younger than that.

I'm not taking a side on what that means, just saying that the real impact of this is yet to be seen. It should be interesting.

It used to be so much easier to separate a kid from a screen--just shut off the TV or the computer. Separating a child from her phone is much harder; it requires constant oversight. I say this while sitting next to my 12yo who is instagramming at the moment. She did NOT have constant iphone/ipad access when she was a toddler, and even so I'm pretty sure (anecdote alert) that some serious changes in her behavior over the past year can be dated to when we got her the phone (which we did once she started riding the subway on her own).

It probably would have been smarter in retrospect for us to get her a dumb phone. But even if WE had had that foresight, it's unrealistic to expect the vast majority of parents (in the western world) will. The net effect of all of us who are responsible for forming the brains of the next generation, and who are giving them smart phones (even in middle school--let alone letting them play with our phones or ipads as toddlers) is inevitably going to lead to changes in how the human brain works.

I don't say that in a defeatist way, just think we need to be pragmatic. It's not realistic to believe there is a way to turn back this tide; probably even mitigation is impossible (over the population as a whole).

I believe research should be focused on these children (11 and younger) who have experienced this newest and furthest-reaching iteration of the data revolution. And then we should be thinking about how to capitalize on the upsides and maybe find workarounds for the possible losses (socialization, problem-solving, whatever) these children will experience.

Going forward, cutting off screens is not going to be a tenable solution.
posted by torticat at 12:17 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Every day, I literally see hundreds of high schoolers sitting at lunch tables on their phones and completely ignoring each other. It is depressing as fuck.

If there had been phones such that I could have positive human interaction - albeit filtered and at a distance - when I was in high school between 1985 and 1988 perhaps I wouldn't have skipped school to the point where I'd missed almost an entire semester worth of days one year. We shouldn't judge policy by how it would impact me, as I am not a typical case, but I think if you're going to hold up the sort of interactions that happen in a high school as some sort of ideal not to be missed... that probably is going to go over like a lead balloon, given the sort of HS experiences I think most mefites had.

I dunno. I don't want to denigrate the experiences of someone who is actually in the trenches but to hear that kids now are less inquisitive than a decade ago? I don't see a lot in the average school encounter that would cause them to want to be inquisitive. I'm a curious sort but there are situations that I'm not curious about - I'm just focused on getting them done.

When I read the work on Dan Meyer's blog and see the sorts of things commenters there link to about how they create curriculum to draw learners in and their experiences... I don't see a sign that they're encountering a nadir of curiosity in their kids. When I see the sorts of stock things being given to them to teach with and the quality of that stuff I see a lot of very good reasons why kids might show no signs of curiosity inside the school building.

I think the nature of "screens" isn't the same now as it was when I was a young kid inclined to glue myself to the tv, but I'm not convinced there's a tremendous difference. My own personal parenting experience is limited to my three year old, but what I find with his limited and curated screen time is that the biggest challenge is keeping him to steering it to non-interactive entertainment on Youtube Kids or the PBS app. In other words, the exact same stare blankly at it stuff I vegged to when I was allowed. I'd be a lot less bothered if he was spending more time on the sorts of educationalish games we allow on that device.

And let me tell you - again, limited to this very young age - I'll happily trade some of his time flipping through his Richard Scary books for time playing with Endless Alphabet (video of "gameplay"). Not all of it, for sure, or maybe even half of it. But if you throw away screens entirely you are losing some tremendous opportunities for learning.
posted by phearlez at 12:34 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the nature of "screens" isn't the same now as it was when I was a young kid inclined to glue myself to the tv, but I'm not convinced there's a tremendous difference.

There is a pretty tremendous difference--at least at an age a bit older than your three-year-old. There is the social interaction that is not face-to-face (or even voice-to-voice via telephone), which exacerbates tween/teen social drama, sometimes to devastating effect. There is the availability of you-don't-know-what on the www that your child may be exposed to at too young an age. There is the element of addiction... my almost-10-yo actually stresses about minecraft because she has such a hard time pulling away, and she really worries about this.

(OTOH, I was equally addicted to books at her age, used to be grounded for misbehavior from reading, and it was the worst punishment I ever endured... so, who knows?)

I realize these are not the issues you are addressing with regard to your 3yo; nor are they the specific issues kinetic has been addressing wrt screen time for babies and toddlers. Just throwing it out there for you going forward! My husband was a latchkey kid who spent a ton of time watching TV. I can say his experience was very very different, though, from that of our own kids.

Also phearlez I also finished HS in '88. Upthread I said I am 48, and it wasn't a typo; just some kind of brain glitch. I'm very much 45, but clearly google has made me really really stoopid!
posted by torticat at 1:00 PM on December 21, 2015


Separating a child from her phone is much harder; it requires constant oversight.

Meaning no offense, but... how is picking it up and taking it with you harder than turning off the tv? Is it just that it's more likely to meet with resistance?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:34 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that, three or four generations ago, paperback novels were what was being blamed for the downfall of society. That people (particularly women) were just reading too damn many books.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:02 PM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


The more I read this thread the more I think kids who are always on screens are like welfare moms. Often heard about, rarely encountered.

I see at least 3 young children, under 2, using devices on the train each day. I live in Chicago. This small number alarms me. It actually makes me feel sick inside.
posted by agregoli at 2:22 PM on December 21, 2015


I really hope that anyone pearl clutching about young kids on devices in public are not also the same people who freak out when a toddler has a public tantrum. We use screens very tactically, usually for one of two reasons: getting my non-eating child to sit in one place long enough to consume calories, and enhancing my ability to live an adult life in public for a few quiet minutes from time to time. Oh, and sick days.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:31 PM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nope, kids have tantrums. I'm sympathetic to parents needing a break...but something about the phone thing is disquieting. Seeing a baby "tap" a magazine photo like a screen is shuddery too.
posted by agregoli at 2:38 PM on December 21, 2015


(Don't see concern at changes observed in children and their quiet time as "pearl clutching" either. Soren_lorensen, your usage doesn't sound at all like what people are worried about with screen time.)
posted by agregoli at 2:43 PM on December 21, 2015


But the thing is, if you see people only in the context of on a train, how do you know what their usage policy is for the rest of their lives? If I had to public commute with my preschooler, I'd certainly add that context to my list of acceptable usages. Having a tired 3 year old on a crowded, uncomfortable bus is no fun for anyone. Deploy all the zombifying screens.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:11 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Absolutely Can't Tip - though I think "what's up with these kids and their phones?" and "is it okay that literal babies are playing on tablets?" are different questions.

I kinda feel like children under five years should be only minimally exposed to... applications that can be described as "delivering content."
posted by atoxyl at 4:00 PM on December 21, 2015


I see at least 3 young children, under 2, using devices on the train each day. I live in Chicago. This small number alarms me. It actually makes me feel sick inside.

Oh come off it, seriously. How many adults zone out in front of a Dan Brown novel or their own iphones or even trashy magazines on trains? Commuting time is like null time. If anyone--grown or toddling--can spend that time in a way that's enriching or at the very least not horrifically boring, more power to them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:01 PM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


This subject hits close to home for me. My son was, until recently, in a state-funded (Georgia lottery) daycare. He did fine up until he was in the three year old room. That particular teacher was oh so fond of worksheets and homework. You can see where this is going. My son is a bright, spirited child. When he gets bored, he acts out.

Also, what the fuck, homework for a three year old? By the time I picked him up at 5:20 every day, he had been at the daycare for 9 hours. A three year old might have the attention span for a worksheet, but a tired three year old certainly doesn't. I started sending his homework folder back with notes from me saying we didn't have time to complete the worksheets.


I almost want to ask if this is satire or something... Homework from a DAYCARE? Adults at a DAYCARE supervising THREE-YEAR-OLDS being teachers? What the hell? Life at that age should not be about structured learning, and certainly not worksheets or homework. This legitimately makes me angry until I realise/remember that it's probably not abnormal and then I just start feeling empty and dead inside instead.

How on earth anyone could find this remotely acceptable I do not understand.


It used to be so much easier to separate a kid from a screen--just shut off the TV or the computer. Separating a child from her phone is much harder; it requires constant oversight

[...]

Going forward, cutting off screens is not going to be a tenable solution.


...just take the phone away? Seems to work for my parents with my siblings (11 and 12).
posted by Dysk at 4:23 PM on December 21, 2015


I see at least 3 young children, under 2, using devices on the train each day. I live in Chicago. This small number alarms me. It actually makes me feel sick inside.

I commute in Toronto and don't see this but I do see babies and toddlers staring at people's legs from their strollers and I can't see that it's hugely better for them, except maybe for depth perception or something. But our trains are a lot easier to navigate with kids than the trains in Chicago, I noticed when we were there, so maybe it's not as hard to risk the kid wriggling around or kicking something.

I'd hazard a guess that the kids you're seeing are on their way to and from daycare, and most daycares have no screen time, so it's very likely they aren't on it all the time. I would never have given my kids a screen on transit because they would have dropped it.

But my son's favourite stroller toy was this face where you pressed the nose and it beeped. Nose...beep...nose...beep. I don't know, I have mixed feelings but it seems kind of like what buttons on phones do.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:16 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh come off it, seriously. How many adults zone out in front of a Dan Brown novel or their own iphones or even trashy magazines on trains?

What? How many adults still die with excitement when they see another train passing by, or still can't quite figure out the difference between a sore tooth and the need to pee? That adults treat it as null time has 0 bearing on whether a 2-year-old could put commute time to better use.

I commute in Toronto and don't see this but I do see babies and toddlers staring at people's legs from their strollers and I can't see that it's hugely better for them.

Well, yeah, but perish the thought that the parent could interact with the kid on the train, like.
posted by bonaldi at 6:36 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]



Well, yeah, but perish the thought that the parent could interact with the kid on the train, like.


I'm guessing you've never done a daily commute with kids on the subway then? Because I have, albeit mostly on weekends. This is how it goes at the end of a long day. The train is crowded. The kid is either up in a wrap grabbing your hair or down in a stroller grabbing people's legs. If you are lucky you can get two seats but then you have to disentangle your child (tantrum!) and worse, put them back at your stop or drag them off with one arm while you bang the stroller into other people with the other (tantrum!)

But you decide you must interact, actually you really want to because you have missed them. So you start a conversation with your two year old.
"Did you play trains today?"
"WANT MY TRAIN"
"No, no honey, we're on the train."
"DOWN! DOWN!" *kicks fellow passenger*
"Why don't we read a book? Look I have one in my pocket"
Child grabs book, throws book at fellow passenger...

If the child is happy and quiet, you leave the child alone. If the child wants to interact, yay, interact.

You get the idea. Look, I love my kids, interact with them tons. When I am in public not interacting with them, it is not because I have decided to let Elmo raise them, it's because I am making a choice based on what is best for my family. 24/7 interaction is not good for me, my kids, my family, or innocent bystanders.

This whole conversation makes me sad for society not because of the screens but because people really just want to blame parents, mostly moms, for not Interacting All The Time or whatever, it's really sad.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:55 PM on December 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


P.S. maybe if we didn't Interact All The Time they would be more curious? OH NO WE HAVE TALKED TO OUR KIDS AND KILLED THEIR CREATIVITY.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:56 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, what the fuck, homework for a three year old? By the time I picked him up at 5:20 every day, he had been at the daycare for 9 hours. A three year old might have the attention span for a worksheet, but a tired three year old certainly doesn't. I started sending his homework folder back with notes from me saying we didn't have time to complete the worksheets.

Um, what? This seems so wrong. (I don't think I even knew how to write at age 3. What kind of a worksheet is a 3 year old expected to do?)
posted by SisterHavana at 7:33 PM on December 21, 2015


What? How many adults still die with excitement when they see another train passing by, or still can't quite figure out the difference between a sore tooth and the need to pee? That adults treat it as null time has 0 bearing on whether a 2-year-old could put commute time to better use.

This is bizarre and hard to parse. Children are people and boring and quotidian things are still boring and quotidian to children with the added bonus of the fact that they have no clue why they have to sit there and stay still and not lick the subway pole. It might be more palatable to you for the average commuting parent to bring multiple toys and books and crayons and coloring books to reverse engineer the entertainment value of Daniel Tiger's Grr-ific Feelings App but it's absurdly burdensome and fundamentally unreasonable.

I live in suburbia, and so we don't commute on a train, but my daughter has a small portable DVD player we use on every single car ride. Why? Because she gets bored and passes out otherwise and if she takes a nap she is a crankypants monster for the rest of the evening and stays up until 2 am. Of course I tried other toys, snacks, books. Nothing worked. Elmo dvds work. Feel sickened, but parenting is constantly juggling a million different considerations which are completely invisible to those outside the family and we're all doing our best to make our lives work and not suck and also maybe have life not suck for members of the public who seem just as pissed off if my kid is cranky and having a tantrum in the supermarket because she fell asleep on the way to the supermarket as they do if I use some kind of technology they disapprove of to avoid that situation at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:06 PM on December 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Folks, maybe we can reign this back in to be more about the post topic and try to avoid extending a lot of side arguments about parenting while commuting, etc.]
posted by taz at 12:18 AM on December 22, 2015


Um, what? This seems so wrong. (I don't think I even knew how to write at age 3. What kind of a worksheet is a 3 year old expected to do?)

Most of them were tracing letters and shapes. I don't object to exercises in learning to write and draw shapes, but sending it home for a 3 year old was ridiculous.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:03 AM on December 22, 2015


My son went to a play-based preschool and had an excellent kindergarten teacher. Very little deskwork, lots of engaging classroom activities, tons of individualized instruction but also this strong sense of the class as a united learning community. That classroom was just a joy to be in. He was sad every Saturday that there was no school.

In first grade, his teacher assigned literally 20 pages of busywork a day in class, and an additional four per night as homework. All of it at the same level and not tailored to individual children. Her response to me telling her that it was too easy for him, too much work, too boring, was to say that there were lots of opportunities to be creative. Make the coloring page really detailed! Write longer and more interesting sentences on the sentence page! Her priority was always to talk to me about discipline, as suddenly, for some reason, he'd developed a major chitchat problem in the classroom.

We stopped doing the homework very early on. I worked with the gifted and talented teacher to have different deskwork brought in for him, and his teacher gave it to him in ADDITION to her 20 page busywork packets. When he had a sick day, she sent home the busywork packet as homework. I threw it in the trash along with all the other homework.

His teacher this year is great again. He's learning, he's mostly happy at school, he's having fun with his friends. But I look at the work that he does -- the stories he writes at school, that sort of thing -- and in most cases the quality of the work, halfway through second grade, is lower than what he was doing at the end of kindergarten. Because last year, while he didn't learn any reading or math, he DID learn the important lesson that written schoolwork is pointless bullshit to rush through as quickly as you can. I have no idea how many months of good, enjoyable instruction it's going to take for him to unlearn that lesson. To be honest the whole thing kind of breaks my heart.
posted by gerstle at 6:31 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd like to not ban screens but I'd love to ban non-parents taking every opportunity to judge the parenting of others based on 5 minutes of observation in stressful public situations.

Parenting young children is hard. Whether you stay home with them all day or work a full time job and send them to daycare, it's hard. The number one coping strategy to get through years 0-6 (and, to a limited extent, beyond) is to pick your battles. You cannot be a perfect Stepford parent to your perfect Stepford child 24/7/365. I don't care who you are and what you do, it is just not possible. And every unique special snowflake of a child has unique personalities and different interests.

My son, for instance, loves riding in the car and is obsessed with street names like he's studying for some Pittsburgh version of The Knowledge, so for him there's no need to distract him in the car because he's already super jazzed about it. On the other hand, he finds food and the act of eating to be a tedious bore and would much rather live on air or, at most, nibble on a granola bar while doing headstands. So, even though the Received Wisdom is to ban all screens at meal times, we tried that and the result is an unpleasant battle of wills with a three-year-old (which, all parents know, you will never, ever win). He's completely uncurious about foods, but fascinated with streets.

He has a little friend that loooooves drawing and has excellent fine motor skills, but was slightly delayed with walking and gross motor and as a result has no interest in playgrounds. My kid is the opposite: this child would slide and climb and swing all day every day if he could (and I picked his daycare primarily because they have two! playgrounds! and get the kids outside as much as they possibly can) but if you put paper and crayons in front of him, he'll often just walk away. He's not defective because he doesn't do this thing that other kids like to do, and his little friend isn't defective for not liking playgrounds. No kid is defective for not being SUPAH! EXCITED! about riding on a train. And their parents are not horrible monsters for taking a situation in which their toddler or preschooler being forced by the vagaries of life into doing something they are not interested in doing and providing that child with something they are interested in. (And before you say "Talk to them!", kids like adults don't want to talk all the time. Do you want to be forced to have a conversation when you'd rather be quiet? Often when I pick my son up from daycare, I ask him what he did that day and he says, "We're not talking about daycare." or "I'm not talking to you right now, mommy." He's not mad at me or upset about daycare, it's just that he's been "on" all day in a room with 20 peers and 3 adults and he needs some chill time before he's ready to be social.)

tl;dr: World's Okayest Mom takes things personally, is sick of superficial judgements of my parenting choices from people whose no business it is.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:33 AM on December 22, 2015 [23 favorites]


I'd like to not ban screens but I'd love to ban non-parents taking every opportunity to judge the parenting of others based on 5 minutes of observation in stressful public situations.

So is it OK for other parents to do the judging? Because that sure is where I feel the parenting pressure/advice coming from, not those clueless well-slept innocents.
posted by bonaldi at 8:53 AM on December 22, 2015


I'd like to not ban screens but I'd love to ban non-parents taking every opportunity to judge the parenting of others based on 5 minutes of observation in stressful public situations.

So is it OK for other parents to do the judging? Because that sure is where I feel the parenting pressure/advice coming from, not those clueless well-slept innocents.

I'm okay with it, so long as they come up to me and volunteer their horseshit face to face. Working from home and having a small child has left me with a serious deficit of swear-word and hand-waving opportunities.
posted by phearlez at 9:17 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not judging anyone. I am however happy that I learned how to deal with being bored in a car or a place without watching movies or shows. Because I believe my mind is richer for it. I worry kids are losing that ability self soothe and understand that entertainment shouldn't be available so easily, every minute they don't like where they are. But if you express this kind of thing, you're hating on parents? I don't get it. I am aware that parenting is hard and I don't begrudge using modern strategies to help but some of what I see our in the world does seem potentially harmful, or at the very least, not fantastic.
posted by agregoli at 9:56 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I worry kids are losing that ability self soothe and understand that entertainment shouldn't be available so easily, every minute they don't like where they are.

Unlike adults today, who are unable to tear themselves away from their phones for the length of a restaurant meal, or jabber to each other at the movies or even the symphony, or leave the TV on ALL THE TIME (with this one I'm looking at my parents and parents-in-law, who are in their seventies and all have a strange abhorrence of silence.) It's not like we grown-ups are all Zen masters just because there were no TV's in our cars when we were kids.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:29 PM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


When I was a kid we almost never spent more than 15 minutes in a car. Family all lived nearby, we could walk to school. We went on holiday once a year, that was at most a 2 hour drive. We went to a restaurant exactly once a year, and then my parents chose a restaurant that had a play room for children (with a pinball machine!). It was not assumed back then that small children would just enjoy sitting still for hours at a time. When we were at a family gathering there were always cousins to play with and lots of new toys, so no self-soothing needed there either. This was normal for my generation where I lived. We did not have to learn to self sooth in confined spaces or in public because we rarely were in those places.
posted by blub at 12:45 PM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Meaning no offense, but... how is picking it up and taking it with you harder than turning off the tv? Is it just that it's more likely to meet with resistance?

Yes. A phone is much different from a TV; it's the way kids communicate with their friends and a lot of the time with us, the parents.

Once your kid hits middle school and is out & about, the phone is a pretty essential tool for being in touch with her or him.

Once a kid has experienced the freedom of being able to talk or text or use whatever social media freely, it is very hard to curtail that.

Dysk:
...just take the phone away? Seems to work for my parents with my siblings (11 and 12).

This is a fair point, but it's hard, and honestly it's not going to happen with most parents (again, talking about first-world and relatively privileged families). The peer pressure is relentless. Kids expect that they should be able to be in touch with their friends at all times. It's hard to find a counter-argument to this; "I know what's best for you" just isn't very persuasive for tweens and teens. It's hard to take a phone away without it feeling to the kid like a grounding or a punishment.

I'm not saying it CAN'T be done; obviously it can. But again, most parents won't do it/aren't doing it, and there is going to be a net effect on the development & evolution of the human brain as a result.
posted by torticat at 3:35 PM on December 22, 2015


I worry kids are losing that ability self soothe and understand that entertainment shouldn't be available so easily, every minute they don't like where they are.

But nowadays entertainment IS available easily, every minute, so why is it such a problem to recognise (or "expect") that?
posted by Dysk at 3:39 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


If it weren't for "screen time" from when I was about 2 (I'm 30 now and I'm not even that much of a coder) I would be stuck with a highly compromised education system, horrendous English skills, the lack of empowerment to actually think for myself, high insularity, and the lack of desire to learn.

Education here is mostly Government propaganda aimed at memorizing highly-selective (and not always accurate) trivia for the purposes of passing exams. "Critical thinking" was only applied in very facile ways - there was still only One Correct Answer in the joke that was "literature" classes or Moral Studies or whatever. Actual critical thinking, actual outside-of-school learning, those things were discouraged because you'd fail on the exams and gasp! might rebel against the Government or something and we can't have that! (And urgh don't get me started on English language education.)

I learned how to use screens mostly on my own (I had computing classes for a couple of years but asides from beginner Pascal it wasn't completely novel skills). Stuck in the middle of nowhere with very little resources - including any sort of fun or useful after-school activity that wasn't cram school - the Internet was my lifeline. I learned way way more from screens, televised or computerized or whatever, than I ever did at school. And a lot of that was by my own initiative - and I'm hardly a weirdo in this department.

Maybe instead of putting all the blame on "screens", maybe look at your curriculum and see what it is that's so lacking that your students need screens to fill the gaps? And give your students way more credit. They're likely engaging with highly complex thought processes on screens than you necessarily realize. Give them outlets to integrate their screen use with your class time and you'll see wonders.
posted by divabat at 8:08 PM on December 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


« Older Three SF Stories from 2015: Two Near Future and...   |   Hunting with Eagles- Palani Mohan Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments