By Risa Gluskin
Cause: At the beginning of semester two I asked my new CHW3M and CHY4U students to email me a short blurb about a historical time period they’d like to have lived in. I cautioned them not to be too presentist about their choice.
Consequence: Surprisingly, I received several heartfelt emails telling me how much students would like to live in time periods with fewer distractions and more human interaction.
Corroboration: A few days later, while doing an analysis of Paleolithic society, grade 11 students again mentioned how attractive the phone-free lifestyle seemed (minus the inconvenience of having to gather and hunt their own food, of course). Many seemed to be drawn to the more communal aspects of band-based life.
Analysis: Is it possible these students were seeing the unintended consequences of smart phones? Were they being nostalgic for a time they’d never known (if that is even possible)? Of course they had over-romanticized Paleolithic life; regardless, they seemed to be expressing a genuine wistfulness about the pressure they feel to “connect.”
Bias: I was really taken aback by this because I have such a negative attitude toward smart phones. I don’t even have one! A few weeks ago while discussing the emergence of industrialization in my grade 12 class, I took questions from my students about my phone-less lifestyle. I was extremely puzzled by their question, “how do you talk to your husband?” When I said that I speak to him in person, they laughed. What am I missing here?
Significance: Even before the semester started I had already tried to be proactive about cell phones; I put a small piece of tape at the top left of each desk where students were to rest their phones, face down, during class, unless called upon to use it for course purposes. Though I can’t claim 100% compliance, it certainly makes it easier to ask offenders to put their phones away – on the tape. Now that I know there is a group of kids out there longing to break free from their umbilical cords, I am going to provide them with an “out”. Should they wish to, they can put their phone in a “bucket” for the duration of the period and live the Paleolithic lifestyle (minus the killing, of course).
Ah, the beauty of history.
PS: As soon as the break between classes comes, students are almost all on their phones. So much for human interaction.
Risa Gluskin teaches history and student success at York Mills CI in Toronto. As the editor of this blog, she cannot possibly be a Luddite.