On Smartphones: A Statement from our Students

As you may know, the LiHigh School Social-Entrepreneurial program is a democratically run program, which means that we don’t make any rules or major decisions without the students and staff members receiving an equal opportunity to discuss and vote on any proposals. If the students don’t support a proposal, then it doesn’t pass.

One issue that has come up again and again before the Congress has been the use of smartphones and tablets at the school. Just like almost every other school (and workplace) in the country, we’ve struggled to take advantage of everything smartphones have to offer without suffering from their negative side effects. And just like almost every other school (and workplace) in the country, we’ve been less than successful.

But yesterday, during our bi-weekly School Congress meeting, after several months of conversation, the students passed the following resolution:

The members of LiHigh School recognize the addictive and compulsive behaviors engendered by smartphones. With Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, we recognize that, by design, the smartphone creates “an environment of almost constant interruptions and distractions…and that the smartphone, more than any other gadget, steals from us the opportunity to maintain our attention, to engage in contemplation and reflection, or even to be alone with our thoughts.” We refuse to allow our passions to be held captive to these devices, and this Congress reserves the right to regulate them in our community.

In a school such as ours, where students are encouraged to discover their interests and chase their passions, smartphones have become a real scourge. Their attention-beckoning notifications prevent us from thinking deeply about who we are and what we want to do, and their procrastinator’s hoard of distractions stem our creative juices before they get a chance to truly flow.

But with this resolution, the students have declared that they will not “be held captive” by these devices, and they’ve affirmed their right to regulate their usage.

The Congress followed their resolution by passing two related proposals:

  • In a scheduled seminar, presentation, or meeting, members shall comply with a leader’s request to put their devices — smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. — in a location where the device’s alerts and notifications will not serve as a distraction from the matter at hand. The leader, who can be a staff member or student, depending on the situation, shall have final say as to whether a device is properly “put away.”
  • On Friday, February 5, 2016, members of the Social Entrepreneurial program — students and staff — shall go one full day without access to their devices. Members may use desktop or laptop computers, but they may not use their smartphones or tablets, except in the case of an emergency.

We haven’t solved every issue with these devices, but by working together — students and staff in one democratic community — we hope to succeed where so many other schools (and workplaces) have failed.

Because it can’t be about taking devices away from the students, and it can’t be about a top-down authority imposing its will over a bunch of kids. That won’t work, and it doesn’t teach them anything but a method for getting around the rules.

If we’re to successfully solve the problem of smartphones in education, it can only be about the students reaffirming the control they have over their own lives. It’s not about taking smartphones away; it’s about empowering them to give them up willingly themselves.

That’s the only way this problem can be solved.

Author: Kyle Callahan

Hi, I'm Kyle. I'm an advisor at LiHigh School. I've been involved in progressive education since I was in high school. I was an original member (and student representative) of the Progressive Program at Green Mountain College, and for my Master's degree, I attended Goddard College, which started the trend toward progressive education in the 1960s. Along with teaching at LiHigh School, I teach courses in creative writing and communications at Green Mountain College. I live with my wife and daughter in Poultney.

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