Educators flipping out over fidget spinners are missing the real menace
By Naomi Schaefer Riley May 8, 2017 | 9:00pm | Updated
Modal Trigger Educators flipping out over fidget spinners are missing the real menace
What if I told you there was a safe, small, inexpensive toy that was quiet, used no batteries, was almost impossible to break, had no screen and seemed to interest kids between the ages of 3 and 23? Would you go out and buy a million of them? Of course, and that’s why stores have been selling out of the fidget spinner in recent weeks.
But just as these small devices have become popular, classrooms and schools around the country are starting to ban them. As usual, adults have completely lost sight of the real problems of childhood today and focused instead on an object that is at worst a symptom of these problems and at best a step toward solving them.
In a post on the Working Mother site that went viral, Cristina Bolusi Zawacki, a sixth-grade teacher, explained, “I actually have a visceral reaction when they emerge from a pencil case or pocket.”
The spinners began as a way to get children who have attention deficits to focus in class. The idea was that if they were doing something with their hands, they would be more likely to pay attention to what the teacher was saying. Acknowledging that it is very hard, especially for young children, to sit still for long hours, some classrooms have substituted exercise balls for chairs.
Obviously, there are other useful ways to combat this problem. Some might suggest more recess or jumping jacks or yo-yo time.
But as more kids with these diagnosed attention disorders came to class with the spinners, they apparently started to distract from classroom lessons. Zawacki writes she became filled with “red-hot rage” as the toys have “become the Millennial/Gen Z/Linkster version of Pokémon cards, Pogs or Tamagotchis.” Maybe.
One nice thing about the spinners, as well as the fidget boxes (small cubes with buttons that don’t do anything except go in and out), is that you don’t actually need to look at them when you’re playing with them. Students can feel them in their hands and still be watching and listening to a teacher. (I have had extensive conversations with all three of my children while they were using spinners, unlike with other toys.)
Tamagotchis, the small robotic pets popular a few years ago, actually did place demands on kids’ attention, requiring them to feed it, speak to it, even scold it.
The Gen Z version of the Tamagotchi is actually something much more ubiquitous than the fidget spinner; it’s called the cellphone. And any sixth-grade teacher who claims spinners, not smartphones, are the scourge of her existence has lost sight of the real attention problems our kids have.
But most educators have simply thrown up their hands. Teachers did not explode in protest when New York City allowed cellphones in schools last year. There was no outrage from educators in Los Angeles when the city gave kids iPads, even though they can be used in class for non-educational purposes.
Indeed, many parents and educators I’ve interviewed say teachers have embraced technology in the classroom despite the distractions it causes.
In Nicholson Baker’s account of life as a substitute teacher in Maine (where each child has a tablet), the novelist notes that students used their screens to play games, listen to music, even watch inappropriate material in the back of the classroom. But the adults don’t object.
In numerous studies, including a 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics, increased screen time has been linked to attention problems for children. Adam Cox, a clinical psychologist, says screen-based activities, especially video games, have a serious effect on kids’ attention spans.
“It’s like constantly being on a roller coaster,” says Cox. “A child feels that all the time: My brain will consist of all peaks and no valleys. It’s like someone who lives on cocaine.”
If anything should promote “red-hot rage” among educators, it’s the fact that kids can’t seem to look up from their screens to speak to adults or concentrate on any activity for a sustained period.
But then, many educators encourage kids to use screens in class and at home for homework, though there’s almost no evidence they improve learning. Where is the anger over misused iPads or the fact that kids text their friends or check social media during class?
Fidget spinners may occupy some of children’s attention but not all of it. They’re a way of helping kids cope with “the valleys” that they will inevitably experience when not looking at a screen. Blaming fidget spinners for our children’s lack of attention is like blaming methadone clinics for drug addiction.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.