Part of our responsibility of working in a boarding school is taking our advisory group of students on a weekend trip somewhere in Switzerland. It is a chance to bond with the students, obviously get them to know one another, and to offer support for many who are far from home and in boarding school for the first time.
I booked an overnight at Lac Lioson and was excited to share the experience of hiking, enjoying the clean air of the Swiss Alps with my advisee students and my family and forgetting about work for awhile. However, it wasn’t long into my second day that I discovered that you can take teenagers are what they are, no matter how idyllic the location. We were having a great time, don’t get me wrong. We rented dirt scooters and bumped down Alpine cow pastures, walked around a wonderful lake, and had a great dinner of cheese fondue. They even played cards and enjoyed one another’s company for awhile.
But something just wasn’t right. It was the constant beeping, blipping, checking miniature screens and giggling at snapchats, instagrams and selfies of friends in other places. As close as I thought we were getting to the others around us, those omnipresent things, those gadgets (I won’t even honor them with an actual name), took us away. So, at dinner I took the risk of putting mine (brought along for pictures and for emergency purposes of course) in the middle of the table in the hut and announced that I was turning mine off and encouraged everyone to do the same for the remainder of the trip. No one followed suit, not even Suzanne, my favorite and most trusted advisee. They clutched them a little closer, looking a combination of hurt, offended, and ‘are you kidding me?’ So, my little black powered down object sat there by itself, unaccompanied and useless.
One boy in particular, seemed to really enjoy the small victory. He had this new Samsung with a huge screen. It was like a mini mini I-Pad and I wondered what sort of person could possibly carry something like that around all day. But he did. I considered pulling rank as Principal and forcing them to put the objects on the table but feared what my options would be if they refused. So, I decided not to empower them by bringing attention to it, but let it go, taking solace in the card games at least and the incredible natural beauty of our surroundings.
The next and final day, it got ugly. Samsung boy resisted going on the day two hike and actually sat down twice on the trail, swiping and jabbing his precious gigantic screen, a sight that really started to enrage me as we were surrounded by spectacular Alpine mountains. But there he sat, refusing to move. Daring me to act. Why did I let them take those things on the hike? I asked myself. Oh right, so they could take pictures. And I picked my battles too. At least while he swiped and texted he was walking, however slowly, up the mountain to our destination. I asked on of his friends, at one point, what would happen if I challenged the boy and made him give up the Samsung. “He wouldn’t give it up,” the friend said. “Oh no?” I said. “What if I grabbed it?” “Then he would just grab it back,” the friend said without hesitation. “If I threw it off the mountain do you think it would shatter?” I said, finally, feeling perspective slipping away.
“He has another one,” the friend said, smiling and turning to finish the last third of our hike.
Epilogue: The boy (a senior) finally made it up the mountain and said on his way down he didn’t want to be part of our advisory group anymore. I smiled and said, “I am proud of you for making it up the mountain. I knew you could do it.”
Thanks for reading. If you haven’t seen the video below, it summed up our experience this past weekend, though we did have some very nice in person moments. Keep fighting the good fight of educating young people to appreciate the world around them.