Lowest Common Denominator

Sometimes the best tool for one process is the worst for another. The lowest common denominator is a great tool for adding fractions, but not great for creating policies and rules. There are multiple factors in determining how we manage needs and behaviors–ease, efficiency, safety, justice, responsibility of all involved, etc. In an urgent situation, a broad-sweeping procedure change is often needed. It’s quick and gets at a pressing issue. In our schools, I lament making our decisions for what we allow or don’t allow for our students based on our frustrations with a handful of missteps without acknowledgment of all of the other positives that we aren’t necessarily seeing. Most people call when there is a problem, but not when things are going well. If we only respond to those problems, we are catering our practices to the worst case scenarios and limiting the best case scenarios.

We are preparing the next generation for their future, not our past.

In the technology world, limits are a quick reaction. The instant gratification and addictive nature of social media, gaming, and constant notifications are real in our world. Our students, teachers, and parents are navigating these challenges in the midst of also leveraging the good of technology. We definitely need guardrails, monitoring, and constant adjustment while teaching our students and kids to be savvy tech users. Yet, often the adult default when a new distraction arises is a response of “shut it down!” All of us will spend the rest of our lives with increasing access to technology that connects us to others, entertains us, creates efficiencies in our lives, and gives us tools to create and share awesomeness. These same innovations will also come with potential dangers, distractions, and unhealthy behaviors. As opposed to completely eliminating those, we need to constantly monitor and adjust in order to teach responsible and productive use of technology. We are preparing the next generation for their future, not our past.

In order to teach responsibility we need to allow the freedoms to use and develop it. Think about the world around us and the choices we make each day. Drunk driving is never acceptable, yet we don’t all have breathalyzers on our vehicles to allow them to start. Wouldn’t a requirement like that limit a behavior that is never good? We have speed limits (well, I think everywhere except Montana), yet our vehicles are capable of going over 100 mph. Is that ever necessary? We don’t restrict this on a whole. There are consequences when we make poor decisions. We can have periods of time with limited freedoms based on past performance, yet we also generally have the ability to maintain freedoms based on not misusing them. Should this be true for our kids, too? Clearly, there are different needs for different tools and different people. Content filtering and screen time rules are needed, and I’m not advocating for leaving our youth home alone with blowtorches and firecrackers.

Learning is messy, and it’s hard. We like to think of it as a joyful and increasingly enlightening path. When we really learn something new, it can give us a pounding headache. Oftentimes, failure is our best teacher. We need to be able to painfully mess something up in order to learn the most. I don’t want to watch our youth fail, but I also know that we need to allow them the experience (when it’s reasonably safe) to do so. Case by case adjustments are less efficient than a lowest common denominator approach to rules. They’re harder to manage. However, a targeted approach when possible may also allow for the richest collective good.

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