Will Fitzhugh, founder and editor of The Concord Review, received the following commentary from a brilliant student who previously received his organization’s Emerson Prize. The Emerson Prize is awarded to the high school students who writes the most outstanding history research paper. The Concord Review publishes history research papers written by high school students, and Will Fitzhugh is tireless in encouraging good writing, historical research, and the expectation that students read at least one complete history book (not a textbook).




This message is from a highly capable high school senior,
Class of 2015 (name withheld)


Digital Side Effects:


In my opinion, technology’s place is not in the classroom, at least not for the most part. Sometimes it is necessary, but most of the time, it only serves as a distraction and offers activities that inhibit productive, successful learning.


At my school, students are allowed and actually supposed to use laptops to take notes during each class, unless the teacher specifically instructs otherwise, which they rarely do. Sitting in class, I often see other students’ laptops open to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, celebrity gossip websites, even Hulu, a website for watching TV shows. Then, a few days later when we have an assessment, students will anxiously ask a number of questions on the material taught in class while they were surfing the web. The entire class is slowed down, everyone’s time is wasted, teachers are disrespected, students come to value web surfing over learning, students retain less information which then makes for a shakier foundation for learning more in the future, and students learn to prefer cramming, or come to see cramming as the only way to prepare for assessments.


Additionally, technology can help students get out of doing assignments in the way that will most benefit them. For example, students will look up how to solve a chemistry or a math problem, rather than completing it themselves independently. Students will look up summaries of English texts to avoid having to actually read the full work. Students will look up translations of Spanish assignments to avoid having actually to read the full text in Spanish. Perhaps, using technology, students can still temporarily do well on in-school assessments, but in the long term, which truly matters, students will not be prepared for the challenges in their future and their career.


Many middle-school-aged boys, such as those at my younger brother’s school, are addicted to video games. After being introduced to video games, often through their classmates at school, these students cannot stop thinking about the games. Perhaps their parents and teachers will impose restrictions on when and how long they can play the games, but the entire time they are not playing games, they are probably thinking about, and looking forward to playing, the games. In that sense, the video games distract them almost all the time and have a large negative impact on their lives, especially their academic lives.


In the summer of 2013, I attended a math research summer program where instructors created made-up names for math theorems, concepts, and conjectures they were explaining, so that students would not be able to search for them using technology and thereby escape the crucial learning process. Overall, the program was a success largely, or at least partly, because of that practice, and students were able to learn much more, develop their math skills more, and discuss much more as a result.