Eanes ISD

Thanksgiving, Technology and the Goldilocks Principle

Superintendent's Message
Thanksgiving, Technology and the Goldilocks Principle

In the 19th Century fairytale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the little girl, Goldilocks, sneaks into the cottage of the three bears and sits in their chairs, sleeps in their beds, and eats their porridge. In each case, she is seeking the one that is ‘just right.’ Specifically, with the porridge, she finds one ‘too hot’, another ‘too cold’ and finally one that is ‘just right.’  It may be of interest, that the ‘Goldilocks Principle’ ~ the concept ofjust the right amount, has found its way into medicine, economics, communication and psychology. 

I strongly believe in the Goldilocks Principle with regard to the world of technology. Too much technology – Bad, too little technology – Bad, there needs to be just the right amount – both in and out of schools. There needs to be a balance.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year; a fact I unabashedly tell everyone I meet. For me, it is the one time of year when I can put aside any distractions and just focus on good food, gratitude and maybe a little solitude. Unfortunately, in our society a new Thanksgiving tradition has begun to emerge: battling smartphones for the attention of family and friends.

In Eanes ISD, we understand that struggle all too well. In our own classrooms this year, we are implementing new, more strict guidelines about what ages can bring smartphones to school and when or how they can be accessed in the classroom, depending on the grade level. These expectations have been and will continue to be stressed with students, staff and parents. Unfortunately, change does not happen quickly – especially with technology that has become as synonymous with our culture as stuffing is with turkey or as gravy is with mashed potatoes.

Just as learning in the classroom should be free of the distractions, dangers and detours smartphones can sometimes create, Thanksgiving should be about spending time with each other. Unfortunately, both are difficult to do when everyone is glued to their personal devices. We're more connected than ever these days; but that's also making it harder and harder to really, truly connect. Don’t let technology get in the way of your family bonding time this year. Make it a priority for everyone to have a “digital detox” and put the attention back on together-time.

The importance of creating that balance is supported by recent survey data. According to a new poll conducted by Eventbrite, over 80 percent of respondents said they think holiday gatherings were more enjoyable before smartphones. And no wonder: While half of those surveyed said the most meaningful communication with family and friends takes place during meals, more than a third admitted to checking their phones at the Thanksgiving dinner table. That number doubled among millennials.


And if you want to make your grandparents happy, you should steer clear of your smartphone. Sometimes the more experienced individuals in our society are the biggest proponents of the no-phones-at-Thanksgiving policy: 85 percent of women 65-and-up think they should be banned at dinner, while 71 percent of men in that age group want people to ditch the phone. Overall, 66 percent of Americans think checking phones at the dinner table should be banned during the holidays.

That is understandable. But how do you get phone-addicted family members to actually talk with each other rather than sending Snapchats between bites of stuffing or surreptitiously checking Instagram while indulging on pumpkin pie? Create phone-free time, set a good example, provide alternative activities and think beyond the holidays to intentionally and continually allow for a “digital detox.” Just because it's Turkey Day doesn't make it any easier to go cold turkey. It does, however, make it arguably more important.

Thanksgiving is a time for food and family. But when you look around the table on Nov. 22, are you going to see faces and hear conversation, or see the glow of LCD screens and hear the tapping and clicking of people checking cell phones or tablets, playing games or hanging out on social media? If you prefer an unplugged Thanksgiving, help your family disconnect from electronics and enjoy the holiday the old-fashioned way.

Please do not get me wrong – I am not anti-technology. When I started high school, calculators were just coming into the classroom and the slide ruler was on its way to museums. When I taught AP Calculus, each student needed a TI 83 graphing calculator. Today, even if you could find one, I would not recommend buying stock in a slide rule company.  

The elimination of technology is not an option. And schools would be irresponsible not to, at the appropriate time, introduce technology to our children. Finding balance is a wise option.  As educators, we can help teach our children proper usage, and how to be good digital citizens. I reiterate – too much technology - Bad, too little – Bad.   

As for Thanksgiving, for me, I prefer a tech-free Thanksgiving where the only FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is related to the dessert table and not what someone is posting on Facebook or Twitter. I hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful week together celebrating the true spirit of Thanksgiving, with at least a little downtime in place of screen time.

Tom Leonard

Dr. Tom Leonard

Dr. Tom Leonard, Superintendent of Schools | tleonard@eanesisd.net
Eanes Independent School District, 601 Camp Craft Road, Austin, Texas 78746