Commentary By Donald Coburn
At a certain moment last year, an uncomfortable silence took hold in my classroom. Lauren had volunteered to read the part of Mama during a reading of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Lauren was an excellent student: She was kind, insightful, a frequent participant in class discussions, and a remarkably hard worker. That day though, her mind was elsewhere.
In perfect silence, her classmates stared at me with faces that anticipated how I would respond to Lauren’s missed cue. I looked in her direction, waiting for some acknowledgement on her part before breaking the silence. Eventually, she caught on. “Oh, God,” she said, re-orienting herself. “I’m so sorry.” Her classmates giggled and sighed, as she put aside her iPhone and struggled for some time to find her place in the paperback. We weren’t able to finish the scene before the bell rang.
Of all the individual struggles I had with students and their smartphones over the past few years, this one got to me most. This wasn’t a case of a student being disengaged or bored—she had volunteered to read, after all—yet, Lauren’s impulse to check her Twitter account was strong enough that she was willing to risk stalling the entire class’ progress to satisfy it. Surely, I told myself, the smartphone issue was more complex than I wanted to believe.
Indeed, the numbers are staggering: According to Common Sense Media’s 2015 Census, on any given day the average American teenager consumes just under nine hours of entertainment media, excluding time spent in school or for homework. This raises the question: Where can learning fit in?
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