New school: The Villaj Idiut

I don’t know what U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has in mind for making our schools great again, but I have my own very distinct idea of what she should do to make a lasting impact on America’s youth.

DeVos should make it mandatory that every school system in the country – public, private, charter – include a series of classes in their curricula on cellphone and social media use. I’m of the opinion that there is not one thing that would be more beneficial to our children right now than teaching them how to be responsible users of their mobile devices.

Unless you have been living in a cave (or have gone there to die), surely you have noticed this generation’s crack cocaine epidemic – teenager after teenager and young adult after young adult with their heads buried in their phones, unable to notice the world spinning by around them because of the screen that has transported them elsewhere.

It is disturbing, really, because it has become their lifeblood. If you are around them at all, you can sense the near panic if they are away from their phones, the desperation to get back to them, just in case they missed something of utter importance that their friends posted. It would be comical if it weren’t so downright frightening. They go to bed sad that they have to plug them in and charge them. They wake up thinking about them. And I’ve most definitely caught one of mine in the middle of the night checking it.

And yet as parents, we hand them over on whichever birthday we deem appropriate, tell them to go out into the world and figure it out, and then get angry at them for acting inappropriately on whichever app they are using. It really is nonsensical. It’s a dumb approach to smartphones.

The best analogy I can think of is a car. To get their licenses to drive, we make kids take classes, go through fairly rigorous training, demand that they drive with their parents and then give them restrictions even after they are fully licensed. It is all to get the message across, really, that cars are weapons, and you need to treat them as such.

I’d argue that cellphones are more dangerous. And yet we hand them over like they are packs of gum and tell them to go figure out how to blow bubbles.

Part of the problem is that parents simply don’t know, right? Driving is a rite of passage, and it’s a point of pride for parents to pass on that knowledge to their children. Gotta have the sex talk; gotta have the drugs and alcohol talk; gotta teach them how to drive.

But while most parents have heard of Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, the large majority don’t know how to use those apps, so it’s going to be difficult to pass on information about something with which you are unfamiliar.

And if you are not very familiar or comfortable with it, then it’s even more arduous to discuss the nuances of social media. What is appropriate. What is inappropriate. The repercussions. The notion that, literally, one wrong post can impact you for the remainder of your life.

This is where I think our schools should come in. Because, yes, it is the responsibility of parents to monitor and train our children rather than get angry and frustrated, of which I am fully guilty. But this movement is large enough and important enough that this education needs to be augmented and supplemented by the school systems where our children spend most of their days.

Instead of forcing the kids to throw their phones in a box until the bell rings, pull them out in a dedicated class and discuss, as a group, best practices. Discuss repercussions. Hey, maybe even review recent, real-time posts from groups and how that has impacted someone. It might be therapeutic.

Look, our technology is fast-moving and forward-thinking. Our children are forward-thinking, frighteningly so. So let’s have our educators be forward-thinking as well. It’s time to be proactive on this issue, because it’s not going away.

Frank Hughes is a Los Altos resident and business owner. Follow him on Twitter at @VillajIdiut.

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