Screen Free Day at CHS

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“They’ve invested in all this new technology,” says Waverly Chin, a freshman, “and suddenly they’re like, ‘No wait! Stop! You can’t use it, not today.’”

“Today,” of course, was March 18. Eye-opening social experiment, bad timing, minor inconvenience, major impediment to your ability to function. Call it what you want, but you couldn’t have missed it.

It didn’t take me long to realize that pretty much every student I talked to felt the same way. Can you comment on no-screen day? “It was silly.” Why? “We didn't do anything.” Do you think it benefited you? “Nope, not at all.”

Some students acknowledged that the cause was a noble one, but trying to cut off screen use cold turkey was simply an unrealistic goal. Others thought screen free day achieved the opposite of its intended effect: since we weren’t allowed to use computers, we just spent less time on those and more time on our phones.

Then came the irony. “Some teachers became actually better at teaching,” said Sienna Li, a sophomore, “because they were forced to actually project to the class instead of just reading from the screen.”

Dr. Michael LaSusa, the district superintendent, said the idea came up in an administrative meeting. Responding to the criticisms that the screen free day had been a waste of time, he said, “I think it’s sad that people feel that way.”

“When I started teaching here in 2001, there was not one single smart board, not one single Chromebook. Learning still took place. There were still active discussions and engaging activities. That was the norm.” Fifteen years later, he continues, there's no reason we can't have a productive class session without having to rely on computer monitors and projectors, and one or two days out of 180 shouldn't be too much to ask for.

I mentioned that since we'll be living in a society where technology increasingly exists all the time, everywhere, forcing us to stay off of screens could be seen as counterproductive or antiquated. “In fact, I think it’s the opposite,” Dr. LaSusa said. “That given that we’re living in a society where technology is ubiquitous, it’s even more important that we develop the skills to use it in a healthy way.”

Dr. LaSusa emphasized that he believes the improvements in technology over the years have enhanced the classroom experience. But he also thinks we need to be more careful in how we balance on-screen time and off-screen time. So what was the point, in his opinion? “To reflect on what it was like to just take a break.”

When I asked Mrs. Falkner, who teaches AP English, to do that, she said she felt screen free day gave her an opportunity to interact with her students "in a more personalized and human way."

"Honestly, I hadn't been looking forward to it," she admitted, "but I do think that ultimately, it was beneficial." However, she added, this would matter in the long run only if students themselves can see the benefits of using technology in moderation.

The next screen free day is May 24.