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Defending Children from Screen Sickness

Defending Children from Screen Sickness

Defending Children from Screen Sickness

When Social Media Becomes Destructive

Defending Children from Screen SicknessYour parents finally let you have a social media presence. It’s about time, all your friends got profiles months before you did. You start with Facebook. Brian’s posting pictures from his family’s trip to Paris, Ashley’s talking about how much she loves her new boyfriend, and all you’re doing is laying on your bed, scrolling through the highlights of everyone else’s lives. Nobody posts about the bad things in their lives. Everyone’s life looks perfect.

Their bodies look perfect, too. You get bored with Facebook, and switch over to Instagram and Snapchat. You know the pictures are filtered and edited, but you can’t help but be jealous. When you look in the mirror, your face looks plain in comparison, and you have pimples, frizz and soft spots where other have what looks like glowing skin, glossy hair and defined muscles.

You’re tired, so you change into pajamas, get under the covers, and close your eyes. After a few minutes, you decide you can’t sleep just yet — you’re not really that tired. You pick up your phone again. Wait, everyone’s talking about a party at Ashley’s house…and you weren’t invited?

We are only just now seeing the long-term negative effects that social media may have. Click to Tweet

What is the effect of social media on a developing brain?

Social media, like almost anything else, can be good in moderation. People can keep in contact with friends and loved ones who live far away. Young professionals entering the workforce can build a network of references and potential employers. It can promote charitable causes and help small businesses gain traction. It can build niche communities around common passions, and help people feel included in something larger than themselves.

However, like almost anything else, it can also be abused. This powerful tool at our fingertips is still relatively new.Defending Children from Screen Sickness Facebook was launched in 2004, but it was only made public in 2012. Twitter started in 2006, Instagram in 2010, Snapchat in 2011. In terms of research, a little over or under a decade isn’t a significant amount of time. We are only just now seeing the long-term negative effects that social media may have.

One factor we are seeing that can make a drastic difference in how social media affects a person is the “age of onset,” so to speak – how old a person is when he or she first is introduced to social media.

In an interview with podcaster Joe Rogan, NYU professor and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains the difference a few years’ worth of maturity can make when first delving into social media.

“What may be good for adults may be terrible for 12-year-olds,” explained Haidt, as he proceeded to show several charts of data gathered from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, Higher Education Research Institute, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. The charts showed the rate of major depressive episodes in teens, the rate of psychological disorders (e.g. depression or anxiety) in students entering college, and the number of hospitalizations of teenage boys for non-fatal self-harm all were rising, and they all seemed to start to rise around 2010 — when most people in this adolescent demographic first started using social media.

“In terms of how children bully each other, social media does not affect boys very much, but man, does it affect girls,” said Haidt. “Boys threaten to punch each other in the face. Girls are just as aggressive as boys, but instead of punching, they bully by harming people’s relationships.”

Spreading rumors, excluding people from groups or conversations, and creating beauty/popularity competitions among students is easier to do on social media than it is in real life. Mob mentality is stronger on social media, and people tend to be less empathetic when there’s a lack of face-to-face interaction. Combine all this with the convenient option of posting from an anonymous account and not having to face repercussions for one’s words, and online platforms are a breeding ground for relational bullying and destroying a person’s reputation or self-worth.

Defending Children from Screen SicknessEven if a child is lucky enough to not participate in or be a victim of cyber-bullying, social media’s virtues may be just as dangerous as its vices. The short-and-sweet posts and the flashy video clips encourage one’s attention span — which is typically already quite low in adolescents — to be even shorter. The constant updating of posts makes one feel as if he is missing out, and he must continuously scroll to find the next cool/funny/interesting thing.

People go on social media, intending to do a quick, two-minute check, but spend much more time on it without ever feeling the time pass. It’s the same psychology that keeps people sitting at slot machines for hours, long after the $50 buck limit they set is spent. Research has shown it triggers the brain’s reward center, gives them a rush of pleasure or adrenaline, and leaves them looking for more. Too much of this “dopamine high” and it becomes an addiction.

“Once we realize that these things are so attractive that they crowd out other healthy activities like playing outside and playing with groups of friends […] I hope we can have some reasonable norms,” said Haidt.

What sort of “reasonable norms”for social media would help adolescents’ mental health?

Jonathan Haidt offered a few of his own suggestions for parents:

  • No technology at least a half-hour before bed, to allow kids’ brains time to calm down from all the fast-paced stimulation that technology provides.
  • No devices (phones, laptops, etc.) in the bedroom during sleep/resting times. If the device is in the room with them, they may wake up and check it periodically throughout the night. Sleep deprivation in anyone, especially pre-teens and teenagers, is never beneficial.
  • No social media until high school, when they’re brains are more developed/resilient and when bullying is more tame.
  • Make sure they have “down time” where they can relax without having every moment of their life scheduled.

Defending Children from Screen SicknessSticking to some of these rules may be hard, especially if many of your child’s friends have social media, and you don’t want them to feel “left out.” Talk with the parents of your child’s friends; perhaps they’ll want to use research to better protect their kids’ mental health too.

When your kids do start using social media, make sure you’re “friends” with them and can see everything posted by them or posted by others to their wall or in comments.

As a final word of advice, make sure your your child still enjoys social activities they generally do in “real life.” Keep them in drama club, or church choir or the soccer team, whatever. Having fun, being active, and socializing with their peers face-to-face can be a powerful remedy for any ailment in the virtual world.

Check out our blog or Youtube channel for more up-to-date research on trending education topics.

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Adverse Childhood Experiences

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Adverse Childhood Experiences

How ACEs Affect Children and their Potential

Adverse Childhood Experiences Traumatic experiences in life are sometimes unavoidable. A family member or close friend dies, you become seriously injured, or your house and all your belongings are lost in a natural disaster. Unfortunately, bad experiences don’t only happen to adults, either. It is extremely important that school administrators and educators understand trauma’s potential effects on children; if they don’t, they may misinterpret a cry for help for simple disobedience, and punish the child for a natural coping mechanism, thereby making the child’s situation worse.

How does childhood trauma affect a person’s health and education?

The effects of stress and/or traumatic events on a child’s development can vary greatly, depending on the age of the child, the severity and recurrence of the event, how (and how quickly) it is resolved, among many other factors. Mild and isolated stressors are more easily manageable, and can actually have a positive impact on the child, by giving them the ability and confidence to solve or cope with other problems in the future.

More serious stressors, however, can permanently change a child’s development, and leave them with lasting negative effects, even into adulthood. Although the brain continues to adapt and develop into adulthood (about age 25) 80 percent of a person’s brain is already developed before he or she turns two, and much of a person’s core personality traits (e.g. introversion or extroversion) are set in place by age eight (Source:

A 1990 study conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Health on the impact of Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) found that “toxic stress” and trauma early in life that caused a child’s stress response system to be activated for extended periods of time predictably led to chronic health issues in adulthood (including heart and lung disease, diabetes, cancer, substance abuse and depression), in addition to compromised immune systems and an increase rate of aging. The more ACEs a child has in life, the more likely he or she is to have health problems in the future.

Adverse Childhood ExperiencesRobert W. Block, a pediatrician and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Children’s exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences is the greatest unaddressed public health threat of our time.” If parents, guardians and teachers can learn to recognize ACEs in children, they may be able to help them live a much healthier, happier life for years to come.

It is extremely important that school administrators and educators understand trauma’s potential effects on children. Click to Tweet

How do you recognize ACEs?

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a collaborative project between Duke University and UCLA, has developed a survey system to help people determine their “ACE score” that lists types of traumatic events (such as a loss of loved one, parental divorce, sexual or physical abuse, etc.), and helps people count how many they’ve experienced before age 18. The researchers hypothesize that about 66 percent of Americans experience at least one traumatic event before age 18 and about 20 percent will have experienced three or more. Having four or more ACEs before age 18 increases one’s likelihood of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and researchers suggest it makes a person 12 times more likely to attempt suicide. Those with an ACE score of six or greater are said to “predictably die 20 years younger than the rest of the population.”

Aces Too High is a news organization devoted to sharing information exclusively on adverse childhood experiences. They have a copy of the survey to determine one’s ACE score available at If you or someone you care about have a high ACE score, it’s not the end of the world. The human body and mind are constantly healing and adapting to their environment. Wounds inflicted in the past can be healed in the future.

Adverse Childhood Experiences The first step is to connect with people who care about you and can support you. Family and friends are often good resources, but for more professional and direct help, psychologists, family practitioners, social workers and law enforcement ate there to help.

Educational and judicial systems are also adapting, and more programs are being implemented to promote trauma awareness. Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) is a program intended to shape the way teachers and schools administrators interact with and discipline kids. Teachers are taught to recognize trauma-indicative behaviors in children, practice ways to connect with their students, develop a support system of teachers and school administrates for the child to seek help from, and formulate an appropriate discipline strategy that will address the behavior but not punish the child for experiencing trauma.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a national program of unpaid volunteers to help advocate for abused and neglected children, and help them in their journey to find a healthy, safe and loving home. Adults who are 21, available to appear in court multiple times, and wish to help traumatized children can do so through CASA after only a background check and a 30-hour training course.

The second step in the healing process is to get yourself or another traumatized person out of the situation that traumatized them in the first place. This sometimes means major life changes, such as moving out of a household or cutting contact with certain individuals in one’s life, but sometimes small changes in one’s daily life can also have a dramatically positive effect. Taking time to self-reflect, relaxing with an activity you enjoy, eating a healthy diet, exercising, spending time outdoors and spending time with people who you enjoy and who want what’s best for you are often the best medicines.

Learn about other issues affecting education at the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel.

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Bullying in Schools, and What To Do About It

Bullying in Schools, and What To Do About It

Bullying in Schools, and What To Do About It

Tips to Help Parents and Teachers Quell Bullying

Bullying in Schools, and What To Do About ItBullying is, unfortunately, a common pox on many childhoods and even adulthoods. It can also have devastating mental and physical effects, including depression, anxiety, easting disorders, self-harm, trust issues, social disorders and drug use. These issues don’t go away immediately after the bully is taken out of the picture, either; lasting effects from bullying may last for years after the damage was done. The most tragic cases, bullying can force victims to become so desperate that they see suicide or retaliatory violence (even school shootings) as their only way out.

A solution to completely eliminate bullying in schools is unrealistic; parents and teachers can’t supervise every interaction between every kid. The extensive amount of research done on the subject, however, can offer parents and schools effective means of addressing it enough to make a generally healthy, happy and safe learning environment.

What is bullying?

Before we can know how to effectively prevent and/or respond to bullying, we first must understand its origins.

Merriam Webster defines bullying as the “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc.” The strength and power of the bully over the victim may be real or perceived — bullies may torment a bigger, older, more popular, more athletic or smarter kid if they can convince their victim he or she is weaker, or deserving of such treatment.

Television and cinema often portray bullies as people who come from bad homes, or who have been bullied themselves. There’s a good amount of truth to this.

Before we can know how to effectively prevent and/or respond to bullying, we first must understand its origins. Click to Tweet

What can parents and teachers do about it?

In their book, “Bullying in Schools: How Successful Can Interventions Be?” educational researchers Peter K. Smith,Bullying in Schools, and What To Do About It Debra Pepler and Ken Rigby look at several approaches to bullying that schools have taken, and analyzed the results of each one to come up with a list of both good and bad tactics.

Anti-bullying programs are separated into categories, and each has its pros and cons:

  1. Curriculum-Based Reform

Rather than pointing out individuals, anti-bullying and nonjudgmental practices are taught to the entire class. Lessons may be on what constitutes bullying, how it affects victims, and consequences for certain bullying behaviors. Such programs may institute routine “character traits of the month” practices and reward students who demonstrate what it means to be honest, friendly, respectful, unique, etc.

The philosophy behind this approach argues that if everyone is more educated on bullying, it may result in a positive, open-minded school culture in which students are less likely to bully and more likely to defend their vulnerable peers. The authors suggest that younger students’ curriculum (kindergarten through third grade) focus on positive character traits and the effects of bullying, while older students’ lessons can be on more practical matters such as bystander behavior, anger management and legal consequences.

  1. The Punitive Approach

These programs focus more on identifying and punishing bullies. Some schools may set up peer-driven honor courts to decide if the school’s bullying policy has been broken, and if so, what the policy says the punishment should be. Punishments range in severity from simply being forced to apologize to being suspended from school or even criminally charged.

This approach is common policy for many schools, but unfortunately, it is largely ineffective. Punishment alone is purely reactionary, and until it is coupled with prevention and intervention efforts, it will only serve as a Band-Aid for the wound. Additionally, if the bully comes from a harshly punitive home, it could traumatize him or her further.

Honor courts can be valuable tools to teach students about civics, ethics and the legal process, but they can actually make the unwanted behavior of the “defendant” worse, as it forces the bully to see his fellow students as enemies against him or her. Punishment is indeed necessary at times, but it should be left to the discretion of adults, or at least student jurors who the bully doesn’t know.

Bullying in Schools, and What To Do About It“[I]t is often difficult to devise and apply clear rules relating to some forms of bullying, such as excluding individuals from groups and rumor spreading,” the authors write. “A miscarriage of justice resulting in resentment on the part of the bully may lead to a redoubling of efforts to continue the bullying in less detectable but equally damaging ways.”

  1. Increasing Resiliency

This approach can be very effective if done the correct way, but it is also easy to implement it rather poorly. Increasing resiliency may include exercises to build confidence, discover one’s individual talents, encourage self-reflection, and improve communication.

There is little evidence to show that bullies will be completely reformed by this approach, but it has shown considerable positive results for victims. Nonetheless, it is advisable that these efforts be directed at all students, and not aimed only at strengthening those seen as vulnerable. If properly done, all students can benefit from these exercises, even if only in small ways— usually the one trait that bullies and victims share is a lack of self-esteem.

Ultimately, the best approach may be a mixture of any or all of these. Whatever policy your school takes on, ensure that it is administered consistently and equally. If changes need to be made, they should be done in small steps to soften transitions and provide a sense of structure and routine for students. Bullying won’t change until the school culture does, and that takes time, patience and dedication from all involved — students, parents, teachers, school counselors and law enforcement.

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The World in the Absence of Freedom

Free Speech Part 3

The World in the Absence of Freedom

Free Speech Part 3

free speechThe last two posts on the YesPhonics blog have both been about freedom of speech; first, we explored at first amendment rights in American schools, and then we dove into the contentious realm of book banning.

In this final installment of our free speech trilogy, we will take a close look at the people who live without these rights. Click to Tweet

Throughout history and across continents, people have and still do live without the basic freedoms that those of us who are more fortunate often take for granted. Some have had their rights stripped from them by changes in governmental, religious or social powers. Others have never gone a day in their lives knowing what it means to be free.

What countries are the least free, in terms of speech?

Freedom House is a U.S. government-funded but independent watchdog organization that researches, reports on, and advocates for democracy and human rights. They annually publish a report on the levels of freedom in countries across the world, and gives them an aggregate score out of 100. The higher the score, the higher the freedom the country enjoys. For a sense of scale, the United States is currently graded at 86, while Canada is at 99 and Uruguay and Australia are at 98. (Which means we’re doing okay, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.)

In 2018, Freedom House scored the following as the least free countries in the world:

Syria: -1

Syria is the only one on this list with a negative score, with should tell us something in itself. The “president,” Bashar free speechal-Assad, took over from his father in 2000, and runs his unitary republic as a true dictatorship. Between him and his father, the Assads have maintained control over the country for the past 47 years. Arbitrary kidnapping, imprisonment, torture and disappearances of citizens is common, and the government frequently censors websites, detains journalists and democracy/human rights activists, and imposes stiff travel bans on its citizens trying to leave.

To make matters worse, the country has suffered at the hands of numerous armed conflicts in the past decade. The Global Peace Index from the international Institute for Economics and Peace ranks the Syria dead last, making it the most violent, war-torn country in the world. Several militant terrorist groups have sprouted up in Syria and attempted to either prop up the existing regime or start their own sovereign state, including ISIS, al-Qaeda, Tahrir al-Sham, Rojava and the Syrian Opposition. With a population of about 18 million, approximately 13 million are internally displaced or war refugees, and another 470,000 are estimated to have died from the most recent conflict.

South Sudan: 2

South Sudan is a young country, having only gained their independence from Sudan in 2011. It’s fight for independence, which lasted 22 years, is Africa’s longest-running civil war, and the people are still dealing with the effects of such prolonged violence.

The former Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, initially promised freedom of the press would be respected in the country when he took office in 2013. However, there aren’t many laws on the books ensuring that freedom, and the few that do exist aren’t strictly adhered to by police. Blogs and websites that are deemed defamatory toward the government are blocked without notice. Journalists for The Citizen, the country’s largest newspaper, have stated that authorities often take reporters in for questioning, and accuse them of defamation and “anti-patriotism.”

free speech
Members of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) arrive at the rally in Juba, as South Sudan prepares for its independence.

In 2014, Benjamin seemed to go back on his initial promise, and warned journalists to not report on the ongoing civil war conflict from opposition areas. If they didn’t report on the battle from the government’s controlled area, Benjamin threatened reporters could face arrest for “disseminating poison.” In 2017, British-American freelance journalist Christopher Allen was killed while reporting in one such forbidden zone. The South Sudanese government claimed he was not targeted, but rather caught in the skirmish, and said they “regretted” his death. Freedom of speech proponents are still calling for an investigation into the matter.

Eritrea and North Korea: 3

Eritrea and North Korea are tied for the infamous title of the third least free country in the world, each with a score of 3 from Freedom House. And they each earned this title for the same reason: being a “hermetic police state.” For freedom of speech rights specifically, the Press Freedom Index ranks North Korea worst in the world, with Eritrea second-worst.

Eritrea almost borders South Sudan to the southeast, and like its neighbor, it is another relatively young and volatile country. The country gained full independence in 1991, and is made up of almost a dozen old kingdoms and sultanates that eventually died out and got sucked into one conglomerate state. As a result, infighting among old powers is common.

Since it’s limited independence in 1942, Eritrea has never once held a national legislative election. Cabinet members are arrested for promoting democracy, and citizens who try to leave the country or follow an un-approved religion are thrown in prison. Military service is mandatory, and with indefinite conscription periods. According to BBC, Eritrea is the only African country to have absolutely no media outlets outside of state control, and the New York Times reported that the country has imprisoned the fourth-highest number of journalists, after Turkey, China and Egypt.

North Korea is infamous for its human rights violations against its own citizens, so much that many people would’ve free speech guessed it to be first on the list. Any aspect of a person’s daily life may be subject to government control or supervision. All employment is managed by the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). WPK is the only ruling party, and all politicians are required to belong to it.

Robert Collins, a 37-year U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea for 35 years who now devotes his work to highlighting human rights violations in the country, uncovered official government documents and first-hand refugee testimony explaining how North Korean citizens are ranked in a “Songbun” status system according to how loyal to the government they and their relatives are. One’s songbun status can affect whether or not one go to a good school or job, or receives adequate housing, healthcare and food.

Amnesty International reports several instances of citizens being arbitrarily arrested, detained, deported, imprisoned or tortured based on suspicions of criticism, doubts or disloyalty to the government. Satellite images suggest that the country operates at least six large political prisons.

North Korean defector Sungju Lee was arrested with his parents because his father was heard saying there “was no hope” in North Korea. In an interview for NPR in June of this year, Lee told the story of his eventual escape. His father left for China in an attempt to find food, and didn’t return. His mother then did the same thing, and also hasn’t been heard from since. As a young boy on his own, Lee joined a gang of homeless boys. They lived in a train station, and police officers would pay them in bread to move dead bodies on and off train cars. Then, in 1999, it turned out that his father was in South Korea, and had paid the equivalent of $25,000 to have a broker “buy” his son back and take him to South Korea for a reunion. Lee concluded the interview by saying that Kim Jong Un “doesn’t love his people. He love his power. His interest is in maintaining his power forever.”

What effect does a lack of freedom have on education?

It’s difficult to find any academic studies done on these countries because they’re simply too dangerous for foreign researchers to visit, and the academics within those countries risk their lives if they say anything negative about the government. Still, can glean some information on the education levels of each country by rough statistical estimates and what we see in the news.

free speechFirst, we can look at literacy rates for citizens above age 15. Syria’s is 86.3% for men and 73.6% for women (this rate is self-reported by the Syrian government, so it’s hard to know if it is true). Women often complete less schooling than men, as they are expected to become mothers and raise families shortly after they hit puberty.

South Sudan has one of the worst literacy rates in the world, with UNESCO reporting that 70% of the adult population is unable to read or write. Many classes are held in open-air “classrooms” without desks, writing implements and very few books or visual resources, and most schools only teach up to the primary level. Girls and children living in rural areas are highly unreached, and are likely to not attend school at all.

Eritrea is actually doing well, with about 67.8% population literate. This is a major improvement from 2002, when it was 52%. The government’s Ministry of Education claimed they intend to build a university in every province (currently, they have two, and several smaller colleges and technical schools). UNICEF has provided the country several grants to strengthen their educational infrastructure.

North Korea’s literacy rate is self-reported at 100%. All education is state-sponsored and controlled, with schools varying widely in quality. Students with high levels of athletic or musical talent are honored at elite showcases, while average and below-average children are often tucked into the shadows. The North Korean government is very fond of advertising classrooms and homes with computers running on their version of Windows, Res Star OS. Some students are highly trained and recruited into hacking groups to spy on citizens and perform cyber-attacks on the government’s enemies, while others may be completely computer illiterate. French photographer Eric Lafforgue visited the secretive state a half-dozen times, claiming he was a tourist, before eventually being banned for publishing too many disagreeable photos of its citizens; one of his most infamous shows a woman pretending to type on her home computer without electricity. Schools also focus heavily on “social education,” where students are taught about their proper role in their families, society and government.

Students can have the most advanced reading and writing skills of their generation, but none of that matters if they can only read government propaganda, or only write messages approved by the government. A child with an empty belly can’t focus on his studies. You can build all the new universities, museums and libraries you want, but it won’t stop your people dying from civil war and torture at the hands of police. You can have a team of brilliant violin child prodigies, but if your students with disabilities are ignored, the education system has failed. Freedom and equality is the only environment in which the human mind can truly prosper.

YesPhonics writes about everything education-related, from parental advice to the latest issues facing schools today. To learn more check out our blog or Youtube channel, and feel free to request topics for us to cover in the future!

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Free Speech Part 2: Book Banning

Free Speech Part 2: Book Banning

Free Speech Part 2: Book Banning

Free Speech Part 2: Book BanningPart 1 of this series dealt with what free speech looks like in America. In this post, we’ll look at book banning, and its impact on literature and education.

Book banning is nothing new. Before the invention of the printing press, books were rare and expensive. They took a long time to write, stamp, assemble and bind by hand — and unfortunately took very little time to destroy. If someone didn’t agree with what was written in the book, burning a few copies was a reasonably efficient way to ensure the vast majority of the population would never encounter the those offensive ideas contained within.

Today, in the age of mass printing and electronic copies, it’s almost impossible to erase a book from existence. Book burning still occurs, but it’s primarily a symbolic act of condemnation now. The modern method to limit a book from being read is to convince as many libraries as possible to ban it.

How are books banned?

According to the American Library Association (ALA), publicly funded libraries cannot legally discriminate what resources they provide based on a patron’s age, sex or race, but they can encourage parents of minors to keep an eye on what their children read. New titles added to a library’s collection are often pre-approved by the library board or a discussion group, or specifically requested by patrons.

For a book to be banned, it must first be formally challenged by a group or individual. Materials are commonly cited for having sexually explicit, racist, offensive or otherwise inappropriate content, for youth or all readers alike. Still, only a small number of challenges actually result in bans.

The ALA doesn’t encourage challenging books. In fact, the association operates an Office for Intellectual Freedom, which reports on and book challenges/bans and actively discourages censorship. Still, in 2017, 491 materials (mostly books, but also other media such as databases, magazines, films, games, etc.) were challenged or censored.

In America, the first amendment makes it so government agencies can almost never ban a book, unless it falls under very specific categories of hate speech and obscenity. There are legal tests for both hate speech and obscenity. The Supreme Court has repeatedly protected hate speech against an individual or group on the basis of race, sex or religion as long as it doesn’t incite imminent violence or harm against the subject.

For obscenity, there is the three-part “Miller Test” from Miller v. California:

  • Would “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” find the work, taken as a whole, appealing to the prurient (excessively sexual) interest?
  • Does the work depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law?
  • Does the work, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value?

The Miller Test is applied in different courts differently, as it also depends on state law, but it is most often applied tobook banning pornography. If a work doesn’t fit all three parts of the test, then it likely will be protected from government censorship.

The majority of challenges don’t come from the government, anyways. According to ALA, three out of every four challenges come instead from patrons and parents. Knowing that, one would think the majority of these challenges would be to ban books from school libraries, which children have access to when their parents aren’t there to monitor what they read. Yet that’s not the case. Only 16 percent of those challenges reported in 2017 were issued from school libraries, with the majority of challenges coming from public libraries. Which brings us to our next question…

What are the ethical considerations of book banning?

Just because something is legal doesn’t always make it right. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled school officials couldn’t remove books from the school library with the sole reason being they disagreed with it. On the other hand, in 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier said school newspapers were not a form of public expression, and schools could therefore limit what student journalists say. How can both these things be ethical? School papers are available to students, teachers, staff and parents — basically anyone who asks for a copy. If you can’t limit what students read, shouldn’t that apply to the readers of the school paper?

Journalists often follow set standards for writing style and policies on confidential sources and other research tactics, but there’s no specific test or certification to be considered a journalist. And, like most journalists, students have an “editor” who can assign them topics and adjust their language. So, for all intents and purposes, high school students should be considered true journalists just as much as paid professionals.

That’s not the only, or the most pressing, ethical question when it comes to book banning. Should children grow up never learning about perspectives outside those of their parents?  Should one group of patrons be able to dictate what everybody else in a public library can read? Click to Tweet

What does book banning do to the mind of a child?

book banning First, it strains the child/guardian relationship. Reading with children from a young age has proven benefits, and can be a bonding activity with parent and child. (For more on this, see our post, “The Effects of Reading to Infants.”) If children learn that their parents are intentionally “hiding” certain material from them, it can lead to distrust.

Famous Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget specialized in studying children’s ideas of morality, fairness and justice. In his article, “The Moral Judgment of the Child,” published by the International Library of Psychology, Piaget uses the pretext of playing a game with children to study their beliefs. In the game, rules are changed by the child or the adult, and the child is asked to say whether or not he thinks it’s a fair rule. From this, Piaget concluded that moral judgment changes as children grow. When they’re young, their primary trust figure is their parent, so they will “tell on” others to the parent when they perceive an injustice. Justice, or “fairness,” is synonymous with equality in their minds; if a child understands that a parent is allowed to “hide” books from them, he or she will likely assume it’s okay to hide things from their parents in return.

Second, the theory of dissonance tells us that forbidding a person from having something only makes that person want the thing more. In a study for the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology titled “Change in attractiveness of forbidden toys as a function of severity of threat,” researchers had boys rank five toys based on how much they wanted each, then gave the boys either threats of punishment if they played with a certain toy. None of the boys played with the forbidden toy while the researchers were out of the room, but the boys who received mild threats later ranked the same toy as more attractive than they first thought it to be.

Thirdly, banning books and differing viewpoints harms a child’s theory of mind (the concept that other people have different experiences, thoughts and feelings than you do). Developing a strong theory of mind is a crucial skill; without it, people generally lack empathy for other human beings, and have trouble making friends and interact poorly in complex social situations (“Not in Front of the Children: Indecency, Cencorship and the Innocence of Youth,” M. Heins, 2007). These traits related to a weak theory of mind can then in turn lead to violence, isolation, depression and sometimes crime later in life.

In the third and final part of this series, we will look at what free speech and education look like in countries around the world and throughout time, with a special emphasis on despotic regimes.

YesPhonics writes about everything education-related, from parental advice to the latest issues facing schools today. To learn more check out our blog or Youtube channel, and feel free to request topics for us to cover in the future!

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Free Speech in School

Free Speech in School

The Importance of Speech and Objectivity: Part 1

By Courtney Duke Graves

Since the ratification of the Constitution, America has enjoyed a level of free speech unseen in many parts of the world. Laws and movements threatening to stifle this right crop up from time to time, but we rely on our court system to protect us from such trespasses on our liberty.

Unfortunately, this system isn’t always perfect. Very rarely do we see free speech hit by a blanket law from Congress. More often than not, it’s hit by smaller government agencies closer to home: public schools.

It’s up to us as parents, educators and students to know our first amendment rights when it comes to school. Click to Tweet

What does free speech look like in American schools?

This is by no means trying to paint all public schools as tyrants; school boards are made of concerned parents and teachers, and I believe most, if not all, have the children’s best interest at heart.

The McCollum v. Board of Education Supreme Court case set precedent when it decided a public school board violated the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause when it allowed a private group to offer voluntary religious classes on school property, and during school hours.

Teachers aren’t allowed to “proselytize” students to their personal religious/political/ideological views, and schools cannot officially sponsor any religious/political activity. However, this rule sometimes goes so far as to wrongfully ban teachers from participating in speech and activities they have a right to.

Schools limit the speech of students while they’re on campus, too. Almost every school in the U.S. has a dress code that disallows expressions of profanity, violence, sex and drugs on clothing. Furthermore, all 50 states have laws mandating children attend some form of school, so public schools can legally discipline students for participating in walk-out protests.

In English and literature classes, the issue of free speech gets even stickier, for both teachers and students.

Teachers can’t pass out Bibles, Qurans or other religious texts, but they can assign passages of religious texts to study literary devices, ancient history records, or to explain religious symbolism and references in other texts.

How should teachers and students exercise their first amendment rights in school?

1. Express beliefs in the appropriate situations.

If a student asks a teacher outside of school about what they believe, the teacher is free to express his or her beliefs to the student, so long as he/she doesn’t use their authority position over the student to influence the student’s opinions.

2. Promote civic and religious activity of all kinds, without discrimination, outside of school-sponsored functions.

Schools may offer their grounds after-hours to host churches, political meetings, and other functions, so long as school employees aren’t directly involved in administering it, and the grounds are equally available for other similar groups to use.

3. Know your rights, and bring a case to court if you feel your rights have been infringed upon.

Schools don’t have a right to limit or punish student, staff or faculty speech outside of school. This has serious impacts for our increasingly technological world. Under certain situations, principals may search a student’s private property, such as a coat or backpack. Does that mean they can search a cell phone? Can schools punish students for cyber-bullying another student at the school? These questions have come up in court systems, but decisions have been varied and conflicting, so there’s no straight answer as of yet. The only thing that will give us a clearer answer in the future is to continue using the court system to protect individual liberties.

For the most part, students are allowed to bring and/or pass out whatever books they want to school, as long as it doesn’t interfere with instruction time and it’s not obscene. That will bring us to our next post: “Free Speech in School, Part 2: Book Banning.”

YesPhonics writes about everything education-related, from homeschool advice to the latest issues facing schools today. To learn more subscribe to our blog or Youtube channel, and feel free to request topics for us to cover in the future!

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iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

How much technology is too much?

iPads in Schools: Pros and ConsSome things about the back to school days never change. Teachers are still asking for #2 pencils and composition notebooks. Parents are still taking photos of their kids as they get on the bus for the first day.

But some things have changed: as schools become more technologically advanced, they’re also becoming more technologically dependent. Smart boards and rented Chromebooks and iPads are now commonplace installations in classrooms. As with almost any situation, this one brings its own trials and benefits. The important thing is to be sure parents and teachers are kept informed of what types of — and how much — technology is best for a child’s learning and development.

What type of technology is best for your purposes?

Out of all the options available for school technology, there seem to be three that dominate the market: SmartBoards, Chromebooks and iPads. It can be a little (or a lot) daunting at first to decide what technology, if any, is best for your students, but a little bit of research goes a long way. Here are a couple common advantages and disadvantages to the popular tech items:

 SmartBoards allow teachers to retain control over the device the entire time it is in use. Students can engage with the board and also play a variety of educational games on it (think Jeopardy with trivia from recent lessons or a two-sided race to click all the prime numbers). This is a big advantage over personal devices for students because it greatly reduces the chance of off-task multi-tasking.

In the average sized grade school classroom, these distracting activities aren’t usually an issue anyways. School-owned devices can be programmed to block non-educational sites, and there’s often a teacher or aide walking through the desks to help students and ensure they’re doing what they should be. But it is important to stop bad technology habits early, before students go into college or the workplace. A 2012 study found that university students who didn’t text, email, use social media during lectures significantly outperformed those who did. The study concluded that “attempting to attend to lectures and engage digital technologies for off-task activities can have a detrimental impact on learning.”

The fact that it’s not a personal device, however, also limits a SmartBoard’s capability. They can really only be used for group activities and lectures. Students can’t work independently with it, which means the activities can’t be tailored to their individual needs. Students can do the same educational activity on a personal device, and be able to go at their own pace, track their progress, and repeat parts they had difficulty in.

Technology should always be used for a purpose — not as a substitute for natural play and family interaction. Click to Tweet 

With all this technology, how much is too much?

There have been multiple studies over the last five years on the impact iPads and other personal devices have on learning, and all have shown some positive benefit.iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

In 2014, the International Machine Learning Society published data that said the biggest educational advantage that mobile devices have (compared to traditional print materials) is not a better teaching strategy, but simply more motivation factors for the students. Those factors include control over the students’ own goals, a sense of ownership, an entertaining platform, and continuity between contexts afforded by the devices’ portability.

All benefits have their limits, however. The Pediatrics Societies Meeting analyzed parent-reported screen times of 900-plus children aged 18 months, and gave preliminary results in 2017. One out of every five children had about 30 minutes of screen time a day, and as screen time increased, so did the likelihood of up to 50 percent of the children developing a speech delay.It is suggested that children only start using educational technology sparingly, and only after their basic speech patterns have already developed. For most children, this means don’t worry about iPad games and educational television shows until the child is at least two years old.

Then, once you do start introducing technology, ensure that it has set goals, start times, and end times. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that smartphone or tablet use during “family times” such as meals, outings and game times — by parents or children alike — could foster feelings of abandonment and encourage bad behavior by children in attempts to get more attention, and increase distracted thinking (and therefore fatigue) in parents.

For more parental and educational advice, subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel.

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How to Reverse the Summer Brain Drain

How to reverse the summer brain drain and still have fun

How to Reverse the Summer Brain Drain

Three Sure-Fire Ways to Get Your Child Motivated and Excited

How to reverse the summer brain drain and still have funSummer’s coming to a close, vacation trips are over, and back-to-school gear is popping up in all the stores. More important than your kid having the right three-ring binder and matching notebooks is that they have the right mindset for the new school year.

How can you reverse the summer brain drain while still enjoying the last bit of summer?

It used to be said that summer learning loss was only a problem in America, where the average summer vacation is longer than that of most international schools. As a result, most of the research on the topic focuses on American students. A 2015 UK study looking at American vacations and standardized test scores estimated “that students’ learning at best stagnates, or, worst case scenario, losses of up to one month of grade-level equivalent learning occurs. Furthermore, the long summer vacation creates a gap of approximately three months in achievement between children from high and low socioeconomic status households.”

Recent European studies (in which a summer vacation is typically 6-9 weeks, compared to America’s 12), however, have indicated the problem is shared among all schools with any amount of vacation.

Any quality curriculum will assume at the beginning that the student may need a refresher on the information from the previous session. But that refresher is only brief, and if your student has forgotten a significant amount over summer, they may find themselves behind before the class has really even started.Click to Tweet

Fortunately, there are exercises you can do now, a couple weeks in advance, to get a major head start on that refresher. These exercises are designed to be built into your daily life activities, so your student will thank you when he or she doesn’t have to sit in front of a textbook for hours, while his or her friends are all out playing.

…if your student has forgotten a significant amount over summer, they may find themselves behind before the class has really even started.Click to Tweet

How do you start?

How to reverse the summer brain drain These exercises are set up into three weeks, but you can adjust the pace depending on how much time you have until school starts. Most of the activities take ten minutes or less per day, so they can easily be combined.

Week 1: Dig up old curriculum

  • Look up some of the lessons and projects your child worked on in their last session, and bring them up in frequent conversation. Perhaps even show them projects you saved, and ask them how/why they made it the way they did. Simply getting your child to talk about things they learned can jog their memories. Even if the memory’s hazy, the more they talk, the clearer it is likely to become. It’s like a book report without the book.
  • If your student is at the stage where he or she is just beginning to spell, the critical knowledge for them is more procedural. This means it’s more important they know the steps and strategies to sound out words, write the shapes of letters and recognize sight words than it is for them to memorize a specific word list. Try the variety of free PBS games online to reinforce these skills, or make up your own game. Or for a more hands-on approach, you can play the letter drawing game, where you take turns writing a large letter on a piece of paper, and having the other person draw something around it using that shape. (A “Y” for example, could become the trunk and branches of a tree.)
  • Apply lessons to everyday activities. Have them figure out which product gives a better deal at the grocery store, or how many gallons of gas you can get for $20. Talk about chemistry when they’re playing with slime. Ask them to read out the recipe and measure ingredients when you’re cooking.

Week 2: Follow their own interests

  • How to reverse the summer brain drain Take a family trip to the library and let them pick out books that interest them. Many libraries also have children’s story hours or “maker space” time. See what your local branch has to offer.
  • Have your summer movie night be something educational and entertaining like Planet Earth, Dead Poet’s Society, The Great Debaters, Matilda or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Just make sure it’s age appropriate.
  • Take a career field trip. If they want to work with animals, take them to the zoo or a local animal shelter. If they want to be a doctor, find one who would be willing to show them around a clinic. Most people enjoy talking about their jobs, and will more than likely be excited to help an interested young student.

Week 3: Get a head start on the new stuff

  • Take a look at the upcoming curriculum to see what’s in store for your child. If you homeschool, you should already have the materials, and if you do public school, a rough curriculum and reading list should be available from the school administration. You could have your kid start reading a required book or practice some of the first lessons ahead of time, or you can take a more informal approach like with the curriculum in week 1.
  • Emotional preparation is just as important as educational preparation. If you sense your child is nervous about the upcoming school year, it may help him or her to tour the classroom or talk with the teacher before school starts. Or maybe they just need a new back-to-school outfit to increase their confidence. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy them all the trendiest things. As long as they know they have a reliable support system at home, they’re set to have a good school year.

So go out there, enjoy the last few days of summer, and sneak education to your kid like vegetables in spaghetti sauce. For more fun lesson ideas and other educational resources, subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel.

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Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

Childhood Speech Disorders

Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

For most of my childhood, I had problems with my speech. As mentioned in Part 1, speech errors are normal while children are first learning to talk, but the errors should resolve themselves naturally by the time the child is in kindergarten. My errors, however, weren’t resolved until I was in fifth grade. It took years of speech therapy classes for me to finally pronounce words properly. Looking back, I realize now that there were a few lessons I had back then – both from my school and my family – that I had to unlearn before I could progress.

What should you avoid doing?

Over-emphasizing phonemes

There are three effective speech therapy methods for those with a phonological processing disorder (discussed in part 1):

  1. Demonstrating how to pronounce the sounds correctly
  2. Having the student identify which sounds are correct and incorrect
  3. Having the student repeatedly practice troublesome words.

The first method is where we come to our first common mistake. When teachers and parents demonstrate the correct pronunciation of words, they often over-emphasize phonemes (the units of sound in a word). If a child is dropping his or her r’s, for example, the first reaction is to make the r’s stand out in the demonstration. Rather than saying “rabbit” or “bathroom” normally, many are inclined to say “R-R-Rabbit” and “bath-Room.” This can lead to the student developing disjointed speech patterns, or over-emphasizing the phonemes themselves.

Phoneme awareness is a useful method for articulation students, but should be implemented only after the student is able to read. A 2010 study found that “most children in the study were not cognitively ready for more advanced, abstract phoneme manipulation tasks” until they were able to read, anyways. That way, phonemes can be emphasized more on paper by highlighting/pointing to letters than by vocal cues.

Limiting therapy to professional sessions.

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in TherapyAnother important aspect of therapy is that it should be constant. Professional therapists are helpful, but they can only interact with the student for a couple hours at a time. The role of parents as therapists is increasingly praised in current research, and should be encouraged as often as possible.

The “parental therapy” method is extremely beneficial because it can be implemented anywhere and anytime, and it incorporates fun family bonding activities (story time, play time, shared meals, etc.) to make speech therapy seem less like a chore. Check out Mommy Speech Therapy or Home Speech Home for speech therapy activity ideas you can do at home.

The “parental therapy” method is extremely beneficial because it can be implemented anywhere and anytime, and it incorporates fun family bonding activities… Click to Tweet 

Allowing people to “parrot” your child

Let’s face it, some speech mistakes are cute, especially when little ones make them. Some mistakes are so cute that adults or other children are inclined to adopt the words themselves. My cousin used to say “namik” for “napkin” when she was two, and our whole family started telling her to wipe her hands on her “namik” at dinner because we thought it was cute. This made it more difficult for her to break the habit when she grew older.

Hopefully, knowing the current research on speech therapy can help parents and educators avoid some of the same difficulties I faced in my education.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more language education advice.


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Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders

Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the BasicsSpeech-language impairment has been called the “most common and least diagnosed disability of childhood,” affecting approximately one in every 12 children. 46 percent of children enrolled in early intervention programs have communication impairments, while 26 percent have developmental delays in multiple areas, usually including language skills (NIH). If not identified and treated early on, a child’s communication disorder can lead to behavioral, cognitive or emotional problems later in life.

Nobody expects a baby’s first words to be perfect. They’re going from gurgling to learning a sophisticated language in a couple of months. Bumps in the road are to be expected. Speech development errors are very common in English-speaking preschoolers. These errors usually resolve themselves naturally by the time the child reaches kindergarten. If the errors persist by the time the child is six, or if a younger infant or toddler is missing several milestones, it may be a sign they need extra help from a pediatrician or speech-language pathologist.  before we can help them, we must understand the root of the problem.

What causes speech disorders?

Speech is more than simply knowing what sounds go with what letters. There are a lot of complex processes that go on in a person’s mind and body for them to be able to speak. First, he or she must hear the sounds correctly, both as someone else is saying them and from their own mouths. This is where phonological processing disorders spring from, including:

  • Fronting: when a sound that should form in the back of the mouth forms in the front (e.g. saying “baf” for “bath” or “sue” for “shoe”).
  • Backing: when a sound that should form in the front of the mouth forms in the back (e.g. saying “gog” for “dog”).
  • Consonant deletion: skipping one or multiple consonants in the beginning, middle, or end of words (e.g. saying “seep” for “sleep” or “ouse” for “house”).
  • Metathesis: switching the order of sounds in a word (e.g. saying “pasgetti” for “spaghetti” or “aks” for “ask”).
  • Gliding: substituting “liquid” L and R sounds with W and Y (e.g. saying “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “yady” for “lady”).
  • Syllable deletion: skipping “weak” syllables, commonly in the middle of longer words. (e.g. “bum-bee” for “bumblebee” or “te-phone” for “telephone”).

photo credit: marcoverch <a href="">A giant storm on Neptune is disappearing and for the first time scientists are able to see it</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>The good news about phonological processing disorders (PPDs) is that they are a mere matter of auditory perception. There is nothing physically or mentally stopping a person with a PPD from making the correct sounds. He or she must simply pay attention to which sounds are right and wrong, break his or her old speech habits, and learn new patterns.

Other speech disorders are much harder to overcome with speech classes alone. Physical traits such as poor motor skills or a cleft lip may affect speech, but often require medical attention in order to jump that hurdle. In the same vein, speech disorders can coexist with psychological issues (e.g. trauma or autism), and may call for the help of a counselor or mental health professional.

How effective is treatment?

It will take time, hard work, and patience, but almost all communication disorders can be improved by therapy. Click to Tweet 

According to an Indiana University study in 1998, “children who receive phonological treatment exhibit both narrow and broad changes in their sound systems that enhance their overall intelligibility and general communicative functioning.”

As a bonus, we have more resources available at our fingertips now than previous generations ever dreamed of. In addition to therapy, people with communication and speech disorders canlear secondary language skills (e.g. writing, sign language) and take advantage of modern communication aid apps. We’ve also included an in-depth guide for everything you need to know about communication disorders. 

So don’t give up hope, and look out for our next post, “Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Common Mistakes in Therapy.”

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more language education advice.


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