Time.com recently posted this alarming editorial in its Education section:
As an educator and parent, of course this caught my attention. Should I panic? Hoax? Going with the Wikipedia definition of “deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth,” I was curious as to this thesis and the supporting evidence provided by the author, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras. At least one editorial challenging the Time piece has emerged and it focuses more on the studies cited regarding educational outcomes. For me, the editorial seems to have at least four main points which deserve further consideration:
1. Technology now dominates the educational landscape and has greatly changed pedagogy (how teachers teach).
2. Students suffer clinical harm from the use of technology in school.
3. ADHD rates have exploded in the 10 years and that may be in part due to use of digital tools causing hyper-stimulation.
4. Adults (teachers) assume everything should be done on a digital device.
Let’s examine each these four assertions by Dr. Kardaras, and what further information might be needed to substantiate the claims…
The screen revolution has seen pedagogy undergo a seismic shift as technology now dominates the educational landscape.
When did the “screen revolution” begin in schools? After the advent of personal computers and the rise of Apple in the educational market in the 1970s, schools did begin acquire computers for educational use with increasing frequency in the 1980s and 1990s. It is only within the last 8-10 years that schools have pursued 1:1 environments (ratio devices to students). A good summary of the landscape of computer use in schools was published by the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2008. It is only in the last five years tablets emerged in education (by 2011 after the iPad was developed) and provided a means for schools to acquire devices in a more cost-effective way than the previous three decades. Despite almost thirty-five years of screens in schools, many teachers still struggle to integrate technology into daily instruction. That is to say, while the availability of technology has become widespread, “seismic shifts” pedagogy may not be as widespread as Dr. Kardaras asserts in this quote. From practical experience as an educator whose school has only recently move to a 1:1 environment, I can tell you teachers have not scrapped traditional pedagogies when adopting technology in the classroom. It is only in the last few years that robust technology integration pedagogies have like Dr. Reuben Puentedura’s SAMR model gained traction.
Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion.
Another editorial addresses the first sentence of this quote (and the selective use of research), so I will not do the same in this piece. Instead, I want to focus on the “clinical hurt” claim. In this particular case, Dr. Kardaras (Ph.D, LCWS-R) is touted in his Amazon.com bio as “an internationally renowned speaker, one of the country’s foremost addiction experts, the Executive Director of the Dunes in East Hampton NY—one of the world’s top rehabs, and the founder and Executive Director of Hamptons Discovery–a progressive adolescent treatment program. A former Clinical Professor at Stony Brook Medicine, he has also taught neuropsychology at the doctoral-level.” An Licensed Clinical Social Worker is someone who fulfills the requirements of the insurance law for supervised experience providing psychotherapy-not a medical doctor. You can find his education credentials at his LinkedIn page. The Dunes is East Hampton NY is advertised on its website as “a luxury rehab center,” so he is treating a very small and affluent section of our society. Additionally, he is selling a book, “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance.” I admit I have not read his book (or know if there are any peer-reviewed studies or case studies based on his work). I do know from living with a pediatrician that her experience with thousands of teens over 20 years does not support his hypothesis that teens “seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion.” Scientists (my background) would call his statement a hypothesis, and would expect documentation be submitted to professional journals (not for profit)-and be able to duplicate and support his work with other studies or observations. In this instance it appears a Ph.D therapist claims he has identified a correlation and hypothesized a causal relationship based on a small subset of the population while Time.com and Amazon.com are touting him to be an expert.
ADHD rates have indeed exploded by 50 percent over the past 10 years with the CDC indicating that rates continue to rise by five percent per year. Yet many researchers and neuroscientists believe that this ADHD epidemic is a direct result of children being hyper-stimulated. Using hyper-stimulating digital content to “engage” otherwise distracted students exacerbates the problem that it endeavors to solve. It creates a vicious and addictive ADHD cycle: The more a child is stimulated, the more that child needs to keep getting stimulated in order to hold their attention.
Dr. Kardaras does link to Centers for Disease Conrol (CDC) website with ADHD data for 2003 to 2011. The data is very interesting when you break it down. If the hypothesis linked to is a “direct result of being hyper-stimulated” by digital content, then this raises some further questions. Since computers (screens) have been present in educational settings for almost three decades, why is only their use being attributed to a rise in ADHD in the last ten? The iPad debuted in 2010 and has only made it into widespread school use in the last 3-4 so how would that impact ADHD rates throughout the country-especially if not uniformly deployed? If computer screens were the cause, why would we see rates of diagnosis staying the same or decreasing in many states? If screens are a major issue, why does the CDC not reference any studies on such in the articles and key findings section of the website? As for the assertion that “many researchers and neuroscientists believe this ADHD epidemic is a direct result of children being hyperstimulated,” note the link provided takes one to the online article “Electronic Screen Syndrome: An Unrecognized Disorder?” at the PsychologyToday.com website. The author, Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, hypotheses that Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) is a new emerging disorder. Note, no current medical diagnosis tool lists this as an actual disorder. Note she is also selling a book, Reset Your Child’s Brain, and Psychology Today is a for-profit (.com) venture. If “many researchers and neuroscientists” have peer-reviewed studies to support such assertions, it would be best if Dr. Kardaras could link to something other than commercial sources.
We are projecting our own infatuation with shiny technology, assuming our little digital natives would rather learn using gadgets—while what they crave and need is human contact with flesh-and-blood educators.
Finally, this sweeping generalization by Dr. Kardaras about educators is just untrue. Good teachers know “they don’t care what you know until they know you care.” School is a relational “business.” Master teachers build relationships with their students and choose the best tool (technology) for the task-they do not simply assume everything should be done on a device that has a screen or that kids are “digital natives.” Calculators were not adopted by schools to replace math teachers or so we could quit teaching math. Similarly, the use of computers (in any form) does not signal the end of teachers or good teaching.
As parents, we all face a brave new world with technologies that were only just emerging when we were children. I have not doubt that too much screen time can have impacts on sleep, fitness, and focus. But the assertion that the problem is simply an edtech industry induced phenomena (“the hoax”) ignores complex parenting issues (like access and modeling) involved here–issues Dr. Kardaras does not address in his editorial. I would be curious to hear his thoughts on Alexandra Samuel’s thoughtful blog post on What Kind of Digital Parent Are You?