The Data (plan) Ate My Homework

Teens and smartphone

Photo: Olaf Speier

In February, The Wall Street Journal featured a story that must have freaked out parents and guardians everywhere. In “Smartphones Go to School, reporter Charlie Wells cites an increasing number of schools nationwide that are allowing gadgets in the classroom for quizzes, homework and projects.

Massachusetts-based educator, Joni Siani, is an outspoken and passionate advocate of media literacy in schools and author of Celling your Soul: No App for Life. (This book was made into a movie by her students and was named best documentary at the Boston International Kids Film Festival last year.) Siani says,

Using smartphones in class is not only counterproductive, but downright insane. Assignments done on a gadget is homework in tiny chunks of thought with little reflection.”

Not to mention the excuses. Dogs will no longer be the scapegoats for missed assignments. Instead, maxed out data plans will be blamed for incomplete projects or homework that just didn’t get done.

It is well documented that overuse of electronics by children is detrimental to their growth. The Learning Habit, published in 2014, reveals that grades, sleep, social skills and emotional balance begin to decline after just 45 minutes of media use. A 2015 study by the London School of Economics found kids banned from using phones at school did much better on test scores than those who were allowed to use them. The impact of banning the devices was equal to an extra hour a week at school or a five-day increase in the school year.

Ironically, many tech leaders are anti-tech parents. Apple founder Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids use an iPad. Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired also had strict rules on electronics use at home. When asked why, Anderson said, “Because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, and I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

At a time when adults are talking about balance, stress management and Internet overload, our children are increasingly hooked on technology. Classrooms should be a safe haven from distractions and a focused learning environment, but teachers are caving in to their students’ desires. Comedian Paula Poundstone said it best. In reference to excessive smartphone usage, she said, “Some kids like heroin. Does that mean we’re going to give it to them?”

Surprisingly, many people defend the use of smartphones in class. And not just those profiting from the technology. John Kim, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, told the WSJ, “The teaching profession has yet to catch up with how students are using the devices.”

Apparently our overworked, underfunded, dedicated teachers don’t have enough to do. Certainly the Internet is a superb research tool. Except when the student gets sidetracked by Snapchat while looking up the per capita income of Zaire. But will writing a paper on a smartphone make the topic stick better? Why is technology driving the content of the learning? At what cost? Who really benefits?

According to Siani, encouraging more gadget use is not what students want. And she should know. During the past seven years, she has interviewed thousands of kids and parents about the effects of digital communication. The response has been eye-opening. Young people are desperate for relief from the demands of 24/7 connectivity. After a recent screening of her film at a Boston area high school, a student asked if she could “just vent” about the pressure from smartphone distractions. Last year, 25 teenagers at another school sat with Siani for two hours after watching the film, waiting to be heard. Many were in tears. (The filmmaker says this happens after nearly every screening.)

“Parents and kids look to their schools for leadership,” says Siani. Therefore, it’s important for superintendents, teachers and other educators to help kids unhook from their gadgets, instead of enabling them. Nationwide, rules on smartphone use in school varies, but consistent, digital communications policies in classrooms are needed that benefit the children. Not Samsung, not Apple or Verizon or Sprint, or the many other companies that provide the technology.

Steve Jobs must be rolling over in his grave.


Santorini Dreamin’ on Such a Winter’s Day

The view outside of Doretta, on a cold winter's night

An arctic winter night was made tolerable by going to Doretta taverna and raw bar, an oasis of casual cool in Boston’s theater district.

Getting me to leave a cozy house on a frigid winter night is like trying to move a mountain. So when my husband roused me from my sleepy, snow day stupor to venture out, it was a Herculean feat. He was able to do this because we were going to Doretta taverna and raw bar. The restaurant opened late last year and is located at The Heritage on the Garden in Boston.

The moment we arrived, the Boho chic of a modern art studio enveloped us and we were greeted with the warmth of a Santorini summer breeze. We were early for our reservation, so we waited on a stylishly upholstered, comfortable banquette in front of tall windows and ordered a drink. (The bar was inviting, with generous leather stools and a TV, but we wanted to sit close together, look outside at the twinkling trees and laugh at the blustery weather.) The spacious interior with its high ceilings makes a superb venue for showcasing the interior artwork by Adrienne Schlow, wife of Doretta’s Chef Michael Schlow. In addition to her gorgeous mixed media paintings, the large space features a 60’ hand painted wall she created, setting off a distressed leather banquette along the back of the room.



Our cocktails were divine. The Daiquiri, just the right shade of lime, was served in the perfect, dainty tumbler, just like on “Mad Men.”

As we sipped away the stresses of the week, we gazed out at the sparkling trees. It was magical, being sheltered inside this elegant, urban snow globe of casual cool.

It was the anniversary of our first meeting. My husband made sure we got a table in front of the windows, so we could continue our snow gazing. Soon after we sat down, flutes of complimentary champagne were brought to the table. Our waiter, Erick Posada, was warm and knowledgeable without being obtrusive. He expertly explained the difference between the appetizers and steered us in the right direction with the small shellfish and raw bar plateau. Artfully arranged bites of lobster, salmon, red snapper, shrimp and yellow tail as well as some oysters, arrived on a silver, ice cold platter. Every item was so fresh and succulent that Doretta will surely give the nearby Legal Seafoods a run for its money.

The wine menu is a Mediterranean sea of options, with its carefully curated selection of ‘by the glass’ and bottled wines. Aside from the usual suspects — France, Italy, California and Spain — several other countries are included on the list, like Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Lebanon and Portugal. Greece is proudly represented with wines from nearly a dozen different regions. We ordered wine by the glass and Doretta gives its guests a generous pour. (This was refreshing, since many restaurants give you just enough wine so that you run out before the main course arrives.) We tried a couple of different varieties, with my favorite being the crisp, fruity Domaine Siglas Assyrtiko-Athriri, a white from Santorini. Erick, a native of Columbia with perfect English, paced our meal like a state dinner. We never felt rushed. Erick also paid a lot of attention to detail. For example, when he realized I had ordered a different white for my next glass, he brought me a goblet with a narrower shape to enhance its flavor. The other attendants were equally vigilant, from the water server to the gentleman who brought us homemade pita bread. Throughout the evening, we got up a couple of times to look at the artwork and check out the décor. Our napkins were neatly folded each time we returned to the table.

After consuming the raw bar plateau, the fried Calamari arrived. The ringlets were white and smooth, without that golden “fried onion ring” look I was used to, so the lemony crunch was totally unexpected. I was transported to a seaside café in Crete and finished the dish faster than you can say Opa! The warm shrimp seasoned with dill came next. This was a recommendation by Erick that was much appreciated.

We shared the Branzino for our main dish. Served with plump capers, roasted red peppers, lemons and fresh cilantro, the entrée was a visual cornucopia on a simple white plate. The fish was browned to perfection. I heard angels sing at the first bite. A side dish of roasted cauliflower, with jalapenos and pistachios, was the finishing touch to our entree. Each dish was light, fresh, colorful and nourishing. Our meal was pure protein. We felt light and so healthy when we finished!


Breaking our wholesome spell, we succumbed to dessert. Erick steered my husband to the Galaktoboureko, a dreamy creamy dessert, made with custard and phyllo dough. I ordered the Baklava. It was not nearly as gooey and chewy as I like, but the traditional Greek pastry was a fine ending to a romantic, relaxing, and delicious night.

The restaurant will surely become my favorite year ‘round pre- theater destination. I can’t wait to return when the weather gets warmer. I’ll sit outside on the restaurant’s patio, under a ‘Mediterranean’ sky over the Park Plaza, imagining a breeze off the ‘Aegean’ while observing society like a boulevardier in Paris. This will all make me hungry for the glorious food I haven’t tried yet, like the Greek Salad (a work of art), crunchy eggplant, spinach pie and the 15-hour lamb shoulder or the striped bass. Of course it wouldn’t be a meal without fresh raw oysters, topped off with a crisp Macedonian white or a Spanish red. With a place like Dorcetta around, who needs to travel?