Melissa Darbee knows how much technology can benefit students in the classroom.
But the Joshua Cowell educator is also concerned about what she says is a recent Manteca Unified mandate stating that students should spend 80 percent of their school day working with technology – a fact that she says, flies in the face of contemporary child development research linking excessive screen time to common problems.
Last week Darby delivered a sharply-worded and reinforced statement to the Board of Education centering on the 80 percent requirement and possible links between the amount of time that students spend on computers or wireless devices and things like anxiety, depression and obesity. Such time has increased with the issuance of tablets to all 23,000 Manteca Unified students as part of the Going Digital endeavor.
And she had the facts on her side.
Among her comments were researched ideas from the A.D.A.M. Medical Dictionary, the Mayo Clinic and a series of independently written articles by The Huffington Post that link too much screen time to childhood obesity, irregular sleep, behavior problems, impaired academic performance, violence and less time for active, creative play.
“Members of the board, fellow teachers, parents and concerned citizens, in a society when obesity-related illness is at an all-time high and in a country where mental illness leads to mass violence at alarming rates – in a time when 11 percent of the children in our classrooms have diagnosed attention disorders – we must offer a well-rounded education,” Darbee said. “We cannot ignore solid research or years of teaching practice in favor of an off-the-cuff mandate.
“We must provide an education that reinforces actual human interaction – an education that produces students that are college, career and life ready.”
Darbee also pointed out that she can’t simply be targeted as “anti-technology” in the wake of the Going Digital platform because she has implemented many facets of the program tailored specifically for the age groups that she teaches.
Too many students, Darbee said, rely on the devices solely for their education – taking away traditional classroom methods that have been proven successful even amongst the newest, tech-savvy generation.
Too many students, she said, are focusing solely on the tablets and the computers which are supposed to augment in-class instruction but has instead nearly replaced it.
“Given the current research in child development it is not only ridiculous, it is unethical for Manteca Unified School District to push teachers to plug students in for 80 percent of the day,” she said. “May I close by pointing out the irony that I’m speaking on this topic tonight – ironic because I am implementing technology in my classroom and ironic because I’ve spent hours researching and looking for age-appropriate applications to the devices at my school site.
“It’s ironic because I was asked to be a ‘site tech champion.’ I’m not anti-technology – I am using age-appropriate technology to support students and maximize their learning. I also have four students in my classroom that cannot hold a pencil – these students do not need to be plugged in for 80 percent of their day.”