A wake-up call

Alumni authors say centering education around digital devices is failing our children


SUMMARY: Two Northern Virginia teachers want to reduce device usage in classrooms because they’ve seen firsthand how damaging technology overuse and misuse have been to youth. Their new book provides actionable steps for parents to become part of the solution.

By Khalil Garriott (’04)

Opportunistic. That’s the word to describe how Joe Clement (’91) and Matt Miles (’06, ’07M) spotted a problem, identified a solution and took action to improve lives.

It started in the halls and classrooms of Chantilly High School in Northern Virginia, where they both teach. “Over time, we both noticed that something was changing with the students we were teaching,” Clement said. “They were becoming less able to solve problems, less able to interact socially and less able to focus for long periods of time.”

Next came lunchtime conversations about their observations. Then, independent research on their own time. The end result was Screen Schooled, a new book about how technology overuse causes problems for students.

“There wasn’t anything out there about the damage that’s happening to students’ learning [skills], interaction and their brains,” said Clement, a teacher for 25 years. “All we could find [were] scholarly articles in journals, but there wasn’t a book for the general reader. So we decided, there’s nothing out there. Let’s write it.”

Statistics back up the narrative that modern society is tech-driven. According to Apple, we unlock our phones 80 times a day. ABC’s “ScreenTime,” a two-hour 20/20 special that aired earlier this year, cited a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing that 82% of Americans think social media is a waste of time, but 69% still engage in it every day.

“Kids are overusing screens,” Miles said. “The average teenager is using a screen for over nine hours per day.”

A study in England found that if phones are not visible to high-school students in classrooms, students’ scores rise from 7% to 14% for the lowest-performing students. And here in the U.S., there is no national policy about devices in a classroom. That’s part of the problem, according to the authors.

“It seems like there’s a big push in education to get screens into classrooms for the purpose of having screens in classrooms,” Clement said about the educational technology industry.

Clement and Miles want to reduce device usage in classrooms because they’ve seen firsthand how damaging technology overuse and misuse have been to youth. Screen Schooled provides actionable steps for parents to become part of the solution to the problem—a problem some parents aren’t even plugged into.

“Students are being harmed by the overuse of technology,” Clement said.

Madison shaped them as educators
Both Northern Virginia natives who returned to the area after graduating from JMU, Clement and Miles credit their time at Madison with preparing them for successful careers as educators. An economics major who minored in German, Clement was in sixth grade when he realized he wanted to attend JMU. When his family dropped off his older sister, who came to campus in 1980, it seemed like the perfect place to him. He applied only to JMU.

“I never even considered going any place else,” said Clement, whose Madison Experience was largely shaped by his heavy involvement with the University Program Board.

Miles, too, wanted to follow in the footsteps of an older sibling. His brother came to JMU, and Miles “fell in love with it.” A double Duke with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social science and a master’s in education, Miles changed his major a few times as he navigated his career choice.

“Ultimately, I found what I wanted to do,” he said. “Something I’m very grateful for is how well prepared the College of Education made me for being a teacher.”

Clement said, “It seems like a lot of schools are heavy on one side: They’re either super fun or they’re super academic. JMU is just a great blend of all of it.”

Each of them said their years at JMU set them up to make an impact on young people’s lives—lives that will be more productive without being attached to their devices.

The authors offer these seven tips on how to get a book published:

  1. Be honest. With yourself and with your audience. What value can you add? What can you bring to the table?
  2. Be unique. Tell a story that hasn’t been told a million times. Dare to be different and go against the grain.
  3. Tell the truth. The truth can be ugly.
  4. Be resourceful. Be open to where the path is going to lead you. Everybody you interview has something to offer.
  5. Be flexible. Once you find a publisher, editor or agent, they’re going to have ideas that might not be your ideas. (The title of the book, for instance, was not our first choice.) The book we would’ve written on our own would have been less interesting and not as useful without the input of the publisher. So we had to put our egos aside a little bit.
  6. Be patient. You’re going to submit a lot of proposals and get rejected a lot. It will take a little while, but if you stay with it, you’ll find the right publisher.
  7. Build a platform. Leverage social media, speaking gigs, blog posts and have some way to get the word out. If you’re already a known quantity, that’s going to make the publisher’s job much easier to sell your book.


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Published: Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Last Updated: Sunday, May 23, 2021

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