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Getting beyond the technology

Our public education system is seriously flawed. These flaws mirror the systemic, interconnected issues found within today’s society. Though I have advocated for children for nearly two decades, I am now viewing our school system with the eyes of a parent; I am deeply troubled. The dependency on technology in our classrooms, the dwindling amount of time students spend outside and the continued influx of nutritionally poor foods available to children are valid causes for concern. Schools today are a microcosm, representing issues faced by America today.

While computer programs can be helpful when working with some special needs populations, there is not an ounce of empirical evidence suggesting that screen time helps our vulnerable young children. Brain development occurring during the first five years of life is astounding. The foundation for how a child will succeed socially, mentally, emotionally, academically and financially is being built. These pathways of success, or detriment, are further strengthened during middle childhood. While computer use is appropriate, in a balanced way, in high school, research is already showing the negative impact of screen time on children. In fact, students from wealthy countries that do not depend on technology in their schools, perform academically better than our children.

Children need to be outside, everyday, in almost all weather conditions. The list of reasons for this is inexhaustible. However, statistically speaking, when children spend significant time in a natural setting, they both learn and behave better. They are also building a lifelong relationship and understanding of nature; we protect what we love. Our wise teachers know that their students need this and are frustrated at current limitations. Our wise elders are confused that children spend so little time outside — a strange notion even here in rural New Hampshire.

Lastly, we do not demand that our students have access to real food during the school day. Have we forgotten that food can also influence how we learn and how we behave with our peers? Once again, research shows that children who participate in food programs do better in school. Research also shows that students who eat nutrient-dense foods learn even better and have overall better health throughout their lives.

While seemingly separate, these three issues represent one significant shift in the future of education. This current pathway of public education is producing impatient, impulsive young adults addicted to screens, empty calorie foods and prescription drugs. The cynic in me also envisions our young adults afflicted by serious eyesight problems and carpal tunnel syndrome, amongst other physical and spiritual defects.

Yet, my philosophy of public education is not utopic; teachers and community members are bringing amazing programs to our students. These programs, however, need to be the foundation of our children’s school experience. Our education system was created to ensure the growing of students into mature, capable adults; nature, good food and limited technology will do this. Public schools, thereby, have the opportunity to become a role model for society. However, schools need our voices. We have to stand up to the corporate stronghold of our schools in the form of smartboards, endless standardized testing, vending machines, school lunch programs, ADD medications and corrupt school officials. We need to address the inequalities that plague our schools. We need to let our experienced, impassioned teachers be with their students and teach. We need to let our children explore the outdoors. We need to embrace the arts. Our children need to eat good food every day. This is possible and not out of reach. Our school budgets and our teachers will thank us for this support and investment in our youth.

Kristen Reilly has spent 20 years advocating for children and their families. With a professional background in nutrition and psychotherapy, she has worked as a therapist, teacher, trip leader and mentor. Currently, she teaches health and wellness at Keene State College and science for the Keene Alternative Diploma Program. She lives in Peterborough and is also actively seeking a book publisher.

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