Saturday, February 09, 2008

I-pods and underachievement

I admit it. There are more and more symptoms that I am becoming a crotchety old man. I try to fight it, but sometimes I just can't help it. One of the things that brings out the crotchety old man in me is seeing kids walking down the halls in our school wearing I-pods.

It seems to me that walking in the hallways is a social situation. People are walking next to you, people are walking toward you, many of whom are friends, and in a small school, nearly all of whom are at least acquaintances. To be walking through all of this with your ears plugged, grooving to your music, trying to be totally in your own world and ignoring everyone seems so unsocial as to be bordering on rudeness.

My own kids bought me an I-pod for Christmas last year, and I do use it once in awhile. But I only use it when I'm by myself. I tried wearing it one day when I walked from my house to school on a Saturday afternoon, and even that felt wrong. Walking to school isn't exactly a social situation, but it's not unusual to come upon someone walking the other way, or to wave at people driving by in their cars, so I just felt like I was missing something. But these kids wear theirs in the middle of a hallway crowded with people they know. It boggles my mind.

This last week, I decided to make a mental note of just who the kids were who actually wore their I-pods while walking through our hallways during school hours. The results of my rather informal survey were incredibly consistent. The first seven kids that I saw with the I-pods were all kids who had failed or were presently failing my American History class. Then I saw some ninth-graders who I didn't know, and I asked teachers standing next to me how they did in class. Everyone of them was an underachiever.

So in our school, at least, there is a very high correlation between wearing I-pods in the hallways and underachievement. The natural assumption to this would be that our underachievers are turned off by school, and the I-pods are simply a symptom of that. But I'm not so sure that that's all it is. The number of underachievers in our school has skyrocketed during the last few years. Is it possible that I-pods and other gadgets like them are not just symptoms? Is it possible that they are contributing to this in some way? I don't know.

17 Comments:

Blogger mybellringers said...

Interesting observation, Dennis.
Kids can't use their iPods/mp3 players at our school during the school day.

Although I know they can be a lifesaver for parents on long trips, I often have wondered about watching dvds in cars instead of taking in the sites while traveling.

2/09/2008 6:02 AM  
Blogger HappyChyck said...

That's an interesting observation, so I think I'd like to do an informal observation at my school, too. Off the top of my head, thinking of the students who always want their ipods on, I'm getting mixed results. I don't see very many students listening to their ipods in the hallways, but in the classroom there are those who always want to listen while doing their work. Some are complete underachievers, but some are my top achievers who claim the music helps them focus. It's against the rules at my school to allow music players, too, so it's a constant battle. On special occasions I allow it when students are writing. (Bad teacher, I know.) In anycase, thanks for sharing your observations. It has me curious.

2/09/2008 7:37 AM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

Correlation != Causation

I have students that can't concentrate with classroom background noises, so an iPod actually allows them to do more work in the classroom, not less.

2/09/2008 9:04 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

I was hoping I might get some comments on this one, and you three came through for me. Way to go! I should make it clear that I'm not out and out bashing I-pods. I think there are definitely times and places for them. And although I don't allow them in my classroom, I can see how they might be useful in the situations that Happychick and Ian mention. Some of our hockey players use them on our busrides and in the locker room as they try to get mentally prepared for games. THAT makes sense to me. Speaking for myself, I love listening to music when I drive, and when I'm driving alone, I don't know what I'd do without it. But I do wonder if I-pods are having a negative affect on some kids.

When I write about kids wearing their I-pods in the hallways, I'm talking about them wearing them in what I think is basically a social situation. That's a lot different than wearing them in a study hall, or even in a classroom in situations where they aren't supposed to be interacting with other kids. I bring up the possibility of causation because I'm wondering if I-pods end up encouraging certain kids to tune out everything else, so they can just tune into their own little world. That could be very unhealthy.

2/09/2008 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The first seven kids that I saw with the I-pods were all kids who had failed or were presently failing my American History class. Then I saw some ninth-graders who I didn't know, and I asked teachers standing next to me how they did in class. Everyone of them was an underachiever.

So in our school, at least, there is a very high correlation between wearing I-pods in the hallways and underachievement.
"

Hi Dennis,

I'm going to poop on your statistics. Until you also have some results for non-iPod wearing kids, you don't have much of a correlation.

Consider a situation where *all* the kids wore iPods. You won't be able to draw any conclusion about iPod wearing if the first seven (or ten or whatever) kids you see wearing iPods tend to fail classes. (You might be able to draw conclusions about the population of the kids you see).

So ... can you do this again and note the first 5-10 kids *not* wearing iPods? We still have the correlation != causation issue to deal with, but right now I'm not even very comfortable with your correlation :-(

-Regards,
Mark Roulo

2/09/2008 6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is it possible that I-pods and other gadgets like them are not just symptoms? Is it possible that they are contributing to this in some way? I don't know."

It is possible.

I don't know either :-(

But I worry, too.

I do know that I'm a lot more strict than most parents I know about my child's TV/internet usage. I'm very skeptical about their potential harm to his ability to focus and concentrate...
[but I don't have much data, either]

And I may just be a bit of a Luddite :-) Our house is not hooked up to dish/cable/broadcast TV, so the TV acts as only a VCR/DVD player. We don't own any game systems like XBoxes or PS3s. We don't have a microwave! We don't own any iPods ... I'd like one, but in a non-earphone configuration.

Sigh.

-Mark Roulo

2/09/2008 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Although I know they can be a lifesaver for parents on long trips, I often have wondered about watching dvds in cars instead of taking in the sites while traveling."

Or reading. My wife and I *thought* about getting a portable DVD player for when we traveled with my (now 7 year old) son a number of years ago. We never quite got around to it. Instead, he thinks that what you do on a long trip when you are bored is to read. This is a good thing ...

-Mark Roulo

2/09/2008 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have students that can't concentrate with classroom background noises, so an iPod actually allows them to do more work in the classroom, not less."

You will find that this is not uncommon behavior for engineers working in cube-farms. Same reason ...

-Mark Roulo

2/09/2008 6:11 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Hi Mark,

I think you misunderstood me. It wasn't just the first few kids. Every kid I saw over a week's time walking down the hallways during school hours wearing an I-pod fit the profile. Every one! As I tried to make clear in my previous response, I'm not talking about kids sitting in study halls wearning them. I'm talking only about kids walking through the hallways, tuning out the world.

2/09/2008 6:19 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Wow, Mark. That was quick. By the time I typed my response to you, you popped in two more comments. Regarding your point about reading, I don't know if my wife feels the same way. When I told her how I felt about kids tuning out the world with I-pods, she said, "That's the way you are when you read."

2/09/2008 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"When I told her how I felt about kids tuning out the world with I-pods, she said, 'That's the way you are when you read.'"

Two differences:
1) One rarely reads while walking through a crowded hallway. Tuning out by reading is much closer to your example of listening to an iPod in study hall.

2) I'd rather my kid 'tune out' in a car by reading (which improves a valuable life-skill) than by watching a DVD (which doesn't).

:-)

-Mark Roulo

2/09/2008 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think you misunderstood me. It wasn't just the first few kids. Every kid I saw over a week's time walking down the hallways during school hours wearing an I-pod fit the profile. Every one!"

Okay.

Unless your school is dominated by low achievers (which I don't think it is, right?), then this is significant [although it would still be technically better to look at the non-iPod wearers, too!].

Sigh.

A interesting question would be, "Did we see this with Walkmen 20-30 years ago?" I don't know. In many ways the iPod is simply today's walkman.

-Mark Roulo

2/09/2008 6:36 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mark, I'm with you on the books. You're preaching to the choir on that on. My wife, on the other hand,..............

2/10/2008 12:24 PM  
Blogger Curtiss Cline said...

Well, here I sit in a computer lab listening to my iPod while I respond to this post. Yes, I am a student, but I am also 37 years old. For me, personally, I listen even in the hallways. If you were to look at my grades though, you would not see the same correlation as you are witnessing with the students in your group. I use my iPod as a way to distract myself and focus on certain thoughts, rather than allowing the sensory information around me to take up my thoughts. This allows me to focus on studying and remembering class items, or focusing on what other tasks I need to do that day. This is especially helpful if I am listening to music I have heard thousands of times, and do not need to focus on the words, or the movements, because I know them by heart. This is my personal reasons, and I cannot focus on the reasons for others, especially those whom you have correlated with sub par academic performance.
To me, however, this speaks to a larger issue. I realize these are just your observations, and not a true scientific study, but I would be interested in seeing what the academic performance of these students would be without iPod use. One unscientific way to do this may be to review their past academic performance and behavior just two to three years ago before the advent of the iPod. I would bet money that they were poor students prior to iPod use, and would continue to be even if iPod use were banned in the hallways of your school. In other words, the iPod use is not the ailment; it is only a symptom of their predilection towards anti social or anti conformist behavior.
One of my favorite bloggers, going only by the name “Q” reflected on the same phenomenon you are addressing here when he wrote in his own blog http://miswritings.blogspot.com/2005/11/technology-social-alienation-nie-redux.html….
“…technology provides us with ways to achieve our own goals, but some of these goals are interpersonal and people have a fascinating history of using technology designed for individual consumption as a vehicle for interpersonal interaction. Reduction in interpersonal opportunities in one public sphere may lead to increases of interpersonal experience in others. We are certainly NOT islands. Most of the negative rhetoric screams bloody murder under an odd assumption that we talk to each other merely because we have to. Give us a reason not to and we will just stop interacting flat out.
And yet... and yet I think there are technologies that change the way we interact, that may lock us into our existing social circles and remove external pressure to meet new people (an uncomfortable process for many)”
In other words, these students you observe may be uncomfortable socializing with their peers in the hallways, or conforming in class, because they do not feel a part of the social setting of the school, and have social connections outside of it.
For better or worse, I do not think it is the use of the iPod that is the cause of avoidance, but the student themselves, that are avoiding social interaction.

2/26/2008 8:47 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Curtiss, thank you for your comment. Once again, I didn't intend this post to be a blanket indictment of I-pods, especially since I have one myself. I don't doubt that the underachievers I saw with their I-pods would be underachieving even if they had never been invented. I do, however, suspect that I-pods might make them a little worse. To put it in your terms, I think I-pods might lead certain kids to withdraw from the social setting of their school and have even fewer social connections than they would otherwise.

While video games can be a nice diversion for many people, I think they are bad for some people who almost get addicted to them. I think I-pods might be a little like that.

2/26/2008 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're reading too much into it. A kid doesn't walk around school ears plugged with Ipod because he doesn't give a rip about school. that may be true, but the root is that being a teenager is miserable for many. I think a lot of high school teachers forget that. I don't condone cutting yourself off socially in this manner, but I can see why somes kids choose it.

3/04/2008 11:40 AM  
Blogger David Jacobs said...

I think a lot of high school teachers forget that. I don't condone cutting yourself off socially in this manner, but I can see why somes kids choose it.

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3/24/2016 4:26 AM  

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