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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Wifi?

Why Wifi?

            I suspect this may be a controversial post.  I wrote on Monday about concerns I have about certain trends I’ve seen in education that often seem to be accepted without question.  The following is a letter (printed with permission) written by an educator, with whom I have discussed some of these things, to his superintendent.  Of course, all superintendents, public or Catholic, I imagine, are doing what they think is best for their schools.  However, though there are many strong and varying opinions, I think this letter brings up points that ought to be considered and all too often are not.

As a parent and employee in [this diocese], I would like to express my grave concerns about a recent policy being planned for our diocesan schools.  I am speaking specifically of the expectation that each student will have a personal computer on which he or she will be working all day, almost exclusively.  I know this is a major initiative with much excitement surrounding it, but I pray that you will take the time to hear my concerns in this letter.

My concerns are two-fold.  First, there is serious debate about the safety of long-term exposure to the radiation from wireless Internet, especially to children.  I know there has been much disagreement on the subject, and in the past we have been given many assurances about the technology’s safety, but that has been seriously called into question by reputable scientists, especially in Great Britain.  And some scientists think children may be at more risk than adults because their skulls are thinner and not fully developed.

In fact, in 2011, the World Health Organization reversed its previous position and classified wifi as a “possible carcinogen.”  I know at present, wireless Internet in schools does not violate regulations, but it is clear that we are continuing to learn about the health effects of this technology.  It has not been out long enough to really know the long-term effects, but some of the studies of its effects at the cellular level are troubling.  Here is a link to the abstract of just one of the many articles on the subject:  (Being from 2009 it even predates the WHO classification.)  As a Catholic diocese, we should not make our kids guinea pigs, exposing them constantly to an official “possible carcinogen,” and just hoping for the best.  That is contrary to our mission.

Second, we all know the effect of too much screen time on brain development and hyperactivity / attention problems.  This even came up in a recent in-service we had.

Here is an excerpt from summarizing a study conducted at the University of Bristol: The results showed that both television viewing and computer use were related to higher psychological difficulty scores, regardless of how much time the children spent on physical activity.”  The study was also reported on by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  It looked mainly at recreational use, I believe, but the increase in screen time necessitated by the proposed changes in technology education is certainly a cause for concern, especially as we try to teach the kids silence, meditation, and contemplative prayer.

As an educator, I am of course concerned with children’s development of technology skills, integration of new technology, and preparation for 21st century careers.  However, I am also concerned with formation of the whole child: mentally, physically and spiritually.  As Catholics, we recognize that human formation is even more important than skill acquisition, but of course these things need not be in conflict.

Our schools can provide Internet access with computers that are “plugged in;” our technology teachers do an excellent job helping students develop technology skills; and our classroom teachers creatively integrate technology into their curriculum.  I know this can be done without exposing our children to potential risks from long-term exposure to wifi radiation and increasing screen time to the point that their brain development will be compromised.

I know there is a lot of pressure on schools as the world and education changes.  But I firmly believe that God will bless our schools if we provide what is truly best for our students.  And our kids will be the ones, when it comes time to take on adulthood, with necessary skills, and also the ability to focus, not to mention the capacity for prayer and contemplation.  That should make them a very hot commodity indeed.

May God bless you as you guide our schools!