Recently, an editor at Slate asked me to write a back-to-school shopping column about the new technology that students are using to stay organized academically. I agreed enthusiastically: I’ve heard that children undergo a surgical procedure at age 9 to attach a cell phone to their tiny little texters (what the rest of us still call fingers ), and that most without developmental disabilities can jailbreak an iPhone by 18 months. What mysterious digital devices are they buying to keep track of their geometry assignments?
My first e-mail was to a teacher at a New Haven, Conn., public school. Surely, I wrote, "current students don't use the same simple paper calendars or Trapper-Keepers that we did." Actually, that’s exactly what they use, she replied: She spots the occasional Trapper-Keeper amid the extremely popular school-issued official planners. Her school also offers an online version of the planner, but several kids I interviewed averred that "no one uses it." As for cell phone calendars and the like, kids are using them with greater frequency, but often employ them exclusively for social engagements (especially in schools where cell phone use is verboten during class).
I felt cheated. Maybe I just wasn’t checking on posh-enough kids—the rich are different from you and me, right? I e-mailed administrators at Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., who said that, yep, kids use a combo of the official planner and their smartphones.
Perhaps Americans are just falling behind the rest of the world in our educational gadgets (the ripple effect of our math/science deficiency)? My sister works for a university in the world’s wealthiest country per capita . Her students, she tells me, use … the free planner the school gives them. And their BlackBerrys. No mention of either being diamond-encrusted. Maybe the Trapper-Keeper will never go out of style—certainly cocky teenage insouciance won’t: A friend’s 14-year-old sister replied to my query about how she stays organized: "Um, I just remember."
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