The Terrible New Thing

By Shamus
on May 21, 2017
Filed under:
Rants

We don’t learn from the past. I don’t mean “we don’t learn from history”. I mean we often don’t even learn from our own past. Individual people might be smart, introspective, and level-headed, but if you zoom all the way out the aggregate behavior of the culture at large is that of a panicked reactionary simpleton.

When I was a kid we had this fad. Miniature 4×4 trucks. I don’t know why. They were maybe the size of your average computer mouseNot that anyone knew what a computer mouse was. This was 1984, and I wouldn’t see one for another five years.. The trucks were stupid. You put batteries in them and turned them on. In the commercials it portrayed them as being able to overcome any obstacle and just! keep! going! In practice they tended to flip over or spin their wheels if they were tasked with climbing over anything that wasn’t specifically shown in the commercial.

One day a kid showed up in class with one of these things, and a month later half the kids had themBut not me. It wasn’t a computer or a videogame, so I was never the slightest bit interested in them.. Two months later they vanished and I don’t think I’ve seen one since.

The year before that it had been Scratch-n-Sniff stickers. Everyone had to have tons of Scratch-n-Sniff stickers stuck all over their elementary school accoutrements. The year before that it was puffy stickers and Rubik’s Cubes. At some point friendship bracelets were momentarily a big deal. A bit later the Garbage Pail Kids collectible cards came out and every class began and ended with kids wheeling and dealing with each other to try and complete their set.

The reaction from the adults was invariant: Annoyance, outrage, and heavy-handed prohibition. Sooner or later they would get fed up with this New Thing and start banning it from classrooms or confiscating it if the items were found during class time. This often applied even if you had your work done. After all, you might distract other kids. If you’re done early then just stare at the front of the room and try to avoid doing anything mentally stimulating, because think of the (other) children!.

The kids were always mystified by this crackdown. It obviously didn’t have much of an impact on anyone’s performance. Class clowns continued to clown whether or not a toy fad was going on. The A students continued to be A students and the poor students continued to do poorly. This cycle of petty hand-wringing and over-reaction always mystified us.

Now that generation – my generation – is all grown up. And then some. We run shit now. And here we are, acting like the screwball Baby Boomers that tormented us in the 80s.

The fad this month is apparently Fidget Spinners, and my generation is dutifully getting all worked up and banning it from schools because (of course) it’s a distraction. So now all the news sites have to say something stupid about it. Last Friday’s Penny Arcade strip isn’t literally true, but it feels true to the spirit of the moment: A bunch of grownups acting like this month’s toy is an alien invasion.

I kind of assumed that Baby Boomers behaved this way because they were the first to grow up in a world of fads driven by televised toy commercials. I’m sure the generations before them had fads too, but they probably weren’t as widespread and they probably didn’t focus so much on gadgets. But I’d hoped my own generation would see the pattern and develop some sense of perspective about this sort of thing. At the very least I thought maybe we wouldn’t see it as newsworthy.

When I was young I always assumed the cycle of annoyance and moral panic on the part of adults was just a local problem. “Man, my teachers are jerks.” But now I see it’s some inescapable human behavior. The desire of administrators to impose order and routine is just as strong as the desire of children to seek novelty and stimulus.

Fidget Spinners look fascinating. I thought I’d get one as a gesture of solidarity with the beleaguered schoolchildren of the world.

But then I saw they were $15 on Amazon and I was like, “Nah”.

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Footnotes:

[1] Not that anyone knew what a computer mouse was. This was 1984, and I wouldn’t see one for another five years.

[2] But not me. It wasn’t a computer or a videogame, so I was never the slightest bit interested in them.


A Hundred!2020205Many comments. 165, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. methermeneus says:

    But then I saw they were $15 on Amazon and I was like, “Nah”.

    My landlord gets ’em at $1.50 a pop and sells ’em for $5.00. (He does that with all sorts of stuff, likes to run one of those random cheap junk flea market stalls.) I think he said he gets them on eBay.

    He also gave them to his grandkids, the enabler.

    • tengokujin says:

      And even if you have poor impulse control, they’re only about 8 bucks at 7-11.

      … I have poor impulse control.

      • I had to deal with a call earlier this week where a lady’s granddaughter spent like $400 on Amazon buying them for everyone in her class and cleaned the grandmother out of rent and food money. Ugh.

        You can get them pretty cheaply if you want to shop around, but since they’re popular something like 85% of the “sellers” offering them are either in China or just out and out scammers. So if you order one for $1.88 on Amazon without paying attention to the seller, be prepared for it to spend 2 months in transit or not show up at all.

        • Oh, and one more thing . . .

          I generally agree that fads like this are pretty dumb. BUT.

          The dumbest thing in THE WORLD is people who just can’t let themselves get excited about things any more . . . for fear of looking dumb. It’s not just dumb, but toxic and often outright malicious when they reach the stage of wanting to poop all over everyone else’s fun.

          Give me someone innocently excited over a silly thing instead of a cynical douchebag complaining about how stupid everything is ANY DAY OF THE CENTURY.

          • Tizzy says:

            Word! I couldn’t agree more. A quality I treasure in people is the ability to be easily amused, even by things that don’t particularly amuse me.

          • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

            Does gushing over the latest numbers of the latest piece of computer hardware count?

            I know I should expect the numbers to get bigger, but I keep being excited when they do. Especially since I keep expecting Moore’s law to peter out on us.

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            This is a good point and I was glad to read it. People are ALLOWED to like things and be excited about them. Throwing buckets of cold water on every enthusiast of a thing is basically an internet past time, though.

        • sheer_falacy says:

          Why does her granddaughter have the ability to spend $400 of the grandmother’s money? That seems like it was unwise.

      • rayen says:

        really? My kids got one at 7-11 and they said it was $5.

    • Echo Tango says:

      If you’re really cheap, you could just go to the hardware store, and buy the ball-bearing units for like…30¢ apiece if you buy a box of them? They won’t be held together in a nice plastic triangle, but if you got the right size, you could wear it on your finger like a ring. :)

    • guy says:

      My sister bought one for $30. It was 25% off. They apparently get more expensive.

  2. pranav135 says:

    this is why i love this site. instead of just abusing/cherishing/condeming/(any other reaction to popular things) something, you drill down the thing and figure out why it works or not and never(almost) give a strong reaction on something. you let the readers decide for themselves.

  3. schlemazal says:

    I think in this case you’re missing what actually causes the adults to start banning toys like that. My wife is a teacher so I’ve gotten to hear a lot of the issues around the fidget spinners from firsthand accounts. I can’t speak for any other toy trends (We haven’t been together long enough for any other particularly bad ones to come through), I would guess the issues are similar.

    While the class clown will always clown, they are not the only ones with toys – when half the class has spinners, and it only takes one person getting it out to distract the others, it starts to cause problems. They also make noise, which just magnifies it – at least at the age range my wife teaches (7th grade), kids seem completely incapable of not looking, even when everyone knows what that noise is. They also break, sending ball bearings clattering across the classroom with kids chasing after them.

    While I’m sure there are regularly cases of overreactions (no fun in the classroom!), I don’t think this is one of them. I do agree that fewer ridiculous hand-wringing op-eds about the latest thing would be nice though.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      When we had no access to toys,we used to toss bits of paper or chalk across the classroom when the teachers werent looking.Kids dont require any toy to make a distraction and a mess when they are bored.

      • Xeorm says:

        Still important to teach the kids what’s right and what’s wrong as far as how they should behave. Even if it’s hopeless. Good for the kids too, as being distracted by making fun of just how easy it is to break the rules like that wouldn’t be fun if the teacher didn’t care.

        • Pete_Volmen says:

          Still important to teach the kids what’s right and what’s wrong as far as how they should behave.

          Yeah, definitely. Taking away the thing they happened to use while misbehaving doesn’t help though. They’ll just use something else. If you taught a kid how to behave, whether they’ll have ToyFad2000 or not doesn’t matter. If you haven’t, lacking ToyFad2000 doesn’t prevent them misbehaving.
          Root cause vs symptoms and all that.

      • Echo Tango says:

        You can also take popsicle sticks and make them into a spring-loaded contraption that explodes when it hits something. Usually another classemate. Those were so awesome to discover / be taught by older children. :D

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Here’s what we did:

      You take a small bit of paper, then crumple it all together until it fits into a straw, aim the straw at someone’s head, then blow. Usually never hit the person you were aiming at, but hitting persons is what it did.

      What I’m saying: Easily distracted kids will easily distract themselves. Spinners are just a symptom, not the cause. If you need something for your hands to do, you will find something for your hands to do. And if you’re prevented from doing that, that will not force you to pay attention either.

      I used to just drum my fingers on the desk, or tap my foot. Annoyed lots of people. Still does :)
      I try not to do it much but it actually helps me think sometimes. Of all the natural human urges I’m thinking this is one that really does not require to be suppressed much.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        And by straw,you of course mean the pen with its internals taken out.

        • Pete_Volmen says:

          Pens of course being their own single-use missile. Open it up, pull back the part with ink in it against the spring, release. After that you have a pen ready and cleared for spitballs.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I was literally posting a comment about spitballs, before I looked down and saw yours! Although technically, your version appears to only be paper without spit. :P

        Required classroom materials can be used to annoy the teacher and other classmates! Heck, the toys will at least be treated with some modicum of respect, since the kids probably don’t want to break their toys. :)

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          And I was just responding to your comment when you deleted it.Damn you,reverse ninja!

          Spitball works fine when you have a clear shot to the target.But when you want to lob it at someone who is blocked by that nerds head,tossing a whole page crumpled into a ball is better.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          Spit is not technically required and we have not seen any evidence that it was used at any time, and if it was it was an isolated incident. And also absolutely necessary in the particular circumstances. We have full confidence that any actions taken were unavoidable.

      • Syal says:

        Easily distracted kids will easily distract themselves.

        Kids aren’t the only ones who can be distracted. A noisy, brightly-colored spinning thing is going to mess with a teacher’s concentration more than spitballs.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          …until you hit the teacher with a spitball.

          I’m not saying that that using those spinners wasn’t annoying, or a distraction for others. I’m saying that I don’t think that fidget tools are enhancing the distractive capabilities of pupils significantly. The problem (and yes, of course that is a problem!) is to keep kids attentive to the lesson and, barring that, at least keep them from distracting others. But their ability and/or desire to do that is independent of any devices. (I’m genuinely ignorant of how phones are handled in schools these days — when I was on my way out of school they were just about to become _the scourge_). I’m pretty sure the fidget spinners problem will solve itself by going out of fashion way quicker than it could be solved through confiscation or interdiction.

          That’s also not to say that teachers don’t have a right to be annoyed, and I can perfectly understand if a teacher directs their anger at fidget spinners — in fact I’m quite sympathetic to that, but I don’t think the problem can be effectively tackled that way. And I see how that’s not a good response, because I don’t have a good recipe for how to tackle it in a different way, except by teaching kids to be considerate of others’ concentration, aka keep quiet in class. I’ve heard that this is an ongoing project and has been for a while.

          So, sorry about disagreeing with your idea but then not being able to present a better solution. But based on my own experience (as a pupil, as a student and also a little teaching students) banning the object will only serve to spin the old hamster wheel of “oh, I can’t do this? Then I’ll to THAT!” a little faster.

      • Stu Hacking says:

        McDonald’s straws (The ones in the wrapper) make incredible paper rockets. Er… So I’ve been told.

    • Henson says:

      All my anecdotes about goofing off in school are music-related. In Orchestra rehearsals, the French Horn player would pull out all his tuning tubes and then putting them in just enough so that the horn would be really, really flat. And then the trumpet player would start blowing bubbles. And then the horn player would try playing the whole piece without using any valves. All just to see if the conductor would notice.

      She rarely did.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        She probably assumed that you’re all incompetent but did not have the energy to deal with it… Maybe she hoped that you’d stop it if she doesn’t do what you expect and get all enraged about your games (be honest: if she’d got mad, that would have counted as a success, wouldn’t it?)

        I think more often than you think, a teacher is just as eager to get a lesson over with as half the class.

        How do you “blow bubbles” on a trumpet?

    • Decius says:

      If they are taking out the figeter, they are either already distracted or about to be. If the apparent problem is that they are making noise, ban the noise. If cheap spinners are breaking, don’t encourage students to buy cheap spinners by threatening to confiscate them.

      To say nothing of the students that gain worlds of benefit from having the ability to do something with their hands and the portion of their brain that is satisfied by that and will steal their primary attention anyway.

      • Vi says:

        Yeah, I always had trouble concentrating unless I did something with my hands. I wasn’t brave enough to bring in toys, so I had to settle for mutilating my school supplies. Since another classmate accused me (to my shock) of “never paying attention”, I assumed it must be a very rare and unique quirk, but who knows? Maybe a lot of kids struggle with the same thing. Maybe some are even put on meds for it. (I’m certainly a basket case, but not in a way chemicals can address.) These spinny things, at least, sound like a less invasive solution…

  4. Ellery says:

    As a high school and middle school teacher, I have seen a ton of these lately. But they don’t distract the class too much. The incessant bottle flipping in the autumn was louder and destructive (kids trying to flip bottles onto light fixtures or architectural elements caused some problems in the school.) these days the kids stopped carrying drinks and now have spinners I couldn’t be happier. We had to ban bottle flipping after a few more serious incidents, but we never bothered with banning spinners. They are much less annoying than even the finger skateboard fad from last spring.

  5. Smejki says:

    Just so you know what kids behind the Iron Curtain were doing in 70s/80s
    (90s were pretty much in line with the West)
    I’ll use Czech names for the stuff

    Céčka (literally Cs – the original pieces were only in C shape, hence the name, other-letter shapes came later)
    https://www.google.cz/search?q=c%C3%A9%C4%8Dka&num=50&client=firefox-b&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjSlr_Y7YDUAhVBoBQKHVVkAPkQ_AUICigB&biw=1632&bih=1115
    Fun fact 1: they were considerably expensive. You got 10 for 1 Czech Crown (CZK) when average monhtly salary was about 2000CZK, which means you could buy 20,000Cs. 1 C weighs maybe a gram or two BTW. Now the average salary is about 26,000CZK (1,200USD). Today you can buy a 1000 piece pack for 150CZK (6USD) -> you can afford 173,000 Cs a month.
    Fun fact 2: Yeah, they are still being produced. Why, I don’t know.

    Mončíčáci (sing. Mončičák. A nonsense word which reminisces the word for “kitty”)
    Notice their thumbs and their mouths. Yeah, that was the core gimmick – they could suck their thumbs.
    https://www.google.cz/search?q=mon%C4%8Di%C4%8D%C3%A1ci&num=50&client=firefox-b-ab&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiniab874DUAhUKbhQKHe0xC6YQ_AUICigB&biw=1632&bih=1115

    This handheld videogame based on Russian cartoon (latinized “Nu, pogodi (, zajchik)!” = Just you wait, jackrabbit! )
    https://www.google.cz/search?q=jen+po%C4%8Dkej+zaj%C3%ADci+videohra&num=50&client=firefox-b&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj5_bGo9oDUAhVBsBQKHYmwB18Q_AUICigB&biw=1632&bih=1115

    And we also had the Rubik’s Cube. It’s Hungarian (therefore Eastern bloc) after all.

    So, consumerism didn’t evade the communist countries either. I guess it’s about satisfying some aspect of human nature. Whatever the socio-economic system is, this stuff has to come. Also even the “money is evil”,”capitalism predates on average people” communist were making this stuff pointlessly expensive.

    • krellen says:

      Monchichis are actually something I remember. Looks like that one crossed the curtain.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Yep, we had Monchichis, too. I saw them in stores and so on, before 1989. Later I assumed they must be of French origin because the word sounds vaguely French.

      We also had several Rubik’s toys. Hungary was a lot more open towards the West than many other Socialist/Communist Countries during the 80’s, so I think a lot of stuff came through there (and People, too).

    • Jenx says:

      Honestly, the Mončíčáci is the only thing I am unfamiliar with (hailing from Bulgaria). Then again, I grew up in the 90s, not the 70s or 80s, but I still remember the Nu Pogodi game (and I remember my parents showing me the cartoon back when I was a kid) and those goddamn plastic things that were just the dumbest thing ever.

      I don’t recall ever really being into fads and such though. I just wasn’t (and still am not) the type to care about what “the next big thing is”, save for two exceptions:
      1. Marbles. Marbles were a HUGE thing here at one point, but I think I had like 3-4, and then mostly just to look at them, since I never bothered learning how to play with them.
      2. Stickers you get with gum. Specifically, Power Rangers ones. I was super into that when I was a kid, and it was really odd with me, since I don’t chew gum (and didn’t back then), so I’d just buy the gum, throw it away, and just keep the stickers. I had tons of these goddamn things.

      Last minute Edit: Actually, to the non-Eastern Bloc readers on the site, I would really recommend hunting down some episodes of Nu Pogodi on YouTube and giving it a watch. There’s barely any talking in it, and it’s a pretty funny slapstick show, in the vein of the better Tom and Jerry cartoons. (The two shows started more or less at the same time, and the creator of Nu Pogodi stounchly insisted that he had never actually seeing Tom and Jerry….especially in the face of criticism from other Russian animators, that he was creating low, vulgar and Western animation, made for cheap entertainment and not The Art. Three guesses how many people know any other Russian animations that are not Nu Pogodi.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Ohh, you guys had the little Mole!
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(Zden%C4%9Bk_Miler_character)

      I used to watch that as a small child sometimes, loved it. My brother is regularly watching it with his daughters. Since it has no words, it works pretty well at really young ages. And it’s lovely, too.

      We also used to have a Cheburashka puppet, brought across the Iron Curtain to Western Germany:
      https://duckduckgo.com/?q=cheburashka&t=ffsb&atb=v48-1&iar=images&iax=1&ia=images
      Really liked that, too. Unfortunately, it was made of some rubbery foam stuff, so it started decomposing, and eventually an ear broke off (how could you not grab him by the ears?)

  6. mookers says:

    $15 on Amazon will probably get you a nice one. The ones all the kids have here are $5 and not very high quality.

    Of course, you can spend $200 and get a CNC-milled titanium one with a super high quality bearing in it.

    Or you can be like me and make one yourself using an old hard drive bearing and some leftover hardwood decking.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      How much of that is actually buying quality, and how much is the equivalent of throwing money away on gold-plated audio cables?

      • Ryan says:

        I’m going to venture that below ~$20 you’re usually paying for actual physical quality more, because you do actually get better bearings and material with more precise production. After that, there’s little else to be gained in actual production quality, so I think any other price increase is at least 90% about giving you the high-fidelity gold-plated all-digital fidget spinning experience that only true fidgetophiles can appreciate as superior…

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        Gold-plated audio cables? Pft, amateur. I buy gold-plated HDMI cables. That way all of my bits arrive in the best possible shape!

      • Falterfire says:

        The two I own were both pretty cheap (One was $8+tax from a local convenience store, the other was $14 from Amazon) and there although there is a quality difference between them, I’m not sure if there’s anywhere further up to go from the $14 one.

        Most notably: The $14 one has different bearings that are nearly silent and a bit less friction. The $8 one works, but it makes a light clattering noise that would likely be a severe irritant if I was a student in a classroom with other students. Due to a light crack in one of the arms, the bearing on that arm can come out if I push on it, which means occasionally I’ll drop it and have to pick it up.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if this was part of why people have such different experiences with them – There’s no Official Fidget Spinner Brand, and the level of noise and how well secured the bearings are vary based on which one you have. I could imagine an otherwise quiet room with four or five people spinning the $8 spinner I have (which I know is a pretty common one for convenience stores to stock) could be a decent amount of irritating noise.

    • Nick Pitino says:

      CNC machinist here:

      People will actually pay that kind of cash for ultra-super-deluxe ones?

      Innnteeerrreeessstinnnggg…

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I gotta buy it chinpokomon!

    xkcd also has a bunch of comics that call out this cyclic behavior.My favorite is this one.

    • Mephane says:

      The most absurd thing is, the current item in this trend (i.e. smartphones) is actually used first and foremost to communicate with each other. People aren’t just “staring at a screen”, they’re communicating with other people who just happen to be physically (or temporally) present.

      • Nick Pitino says:

        Which is fine and well.

        What gets my goat is I’ll go to a restaurant with someone, be actively talking to and engaging with them, and they’ll in the middle of the conversation pull the god damn thing out, compulsively check Facebook, text message their girlfriend who can’t stand to be out of contact for more than five minutes, and then look back up at me and go, “Sorry, what were you saying?”

        Two or three minutes later, repeat.

        I want to take their phone, pry open their jaws and make them eat the damn thing.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          But thats not the fault of the device.Even before cell phones were a thing,I had contact with people who would start reading something,or drawing something,only to suddenly go back to the conversation to say “you what?”.Or people who tried to participate in two conversations at once,only to interject with stuff that were already said earlier when they werent listening.Cell phones only allow them to do this “more efficiently”.

        • I loathe smartphones/tablets for that reason. All my friends are ADDish, and the phone just makes it so much worse. If I, who was diagnosed at age 3 with ADD and medicated by a neurologist, can manage to have a conversation without fiddling with anything besides my ring, then put down the damn device! I get it, the siren call is strong, but I want to talk to you and have your attention.

          Part of this might be slight bitterness from being ordered to put down that book/graphing calculator/compass, pencil, and markers, or yarn during my childhood. I actually focus better when I have something to occupy my hands with, but fiddling with something while I’m in a social setting, having a conversation, seems very rude unless we’re talking about the something. Plus a screen is way more distracting than knitting or carving or doodling, imho.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            who was diagnosed at age 3 with ADD and medicated by a neurologist

            Maybe thats the reason you can resist and the people who you are begrudging cant.

            Funnily enough,Ive found that simply shutting up whenever someone checks their phone works more times than not.The sudden stop of noise tends to make people self conscious about what they are doing.

  8. Xel-chan says:

    I can see why some of those things listed got banned, from the distraction in class. Depending on what it is, it can suck all the students into doing/watching it, instead of focusing in class. Some students just don’t care, but other students care but are just much easier to distract. In general, I personally don’t really care as long as they aren’t doing it during class time (trading cards) or it is something that pulls the attention from the class.

    Fidget spinners are not a thing where I am currently (Japan), but as long as they were the silent ones, I personally think they could be a help for some students.

    Of course, another reason why some of those get banned from schools is due to theft (or the potential for it). All it takes is one student losing/having it stolen before it can blow up and the parents can make trouble for the school. (ie. The school allowed the student to bring this item to school, now it is missing, it is the school’s fault for not securing/protecting that item, and the school better be willing to buy my blameless child another one.) This reason isn’t generally said though.

    • Echo Tango says:

      That sounds like a horrible school culture. When I was a kid, we were expected to protect our (expensive) toys from damage and theft, and to learn how to pay attention to class and ignore the troublemakers. What you’ve described sounds like it’s setting these children up for disaster, when they’re no longer in a protected environment.

    • Decius says:

      Where the school is actually negligent in allowing something to be stolen, such as by demanding that it be stored in an insecure locker, the parents have a point.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        “allowing something to be stolen”?

        What?
        Outside of the principal putting up a sign saying that stealing fidget spinners is allowed, that sentence does not compute for me.

        • Viktor says:

          Basically, when school policies make it easier to steal something. As he pointed out, if a school requires something be left in a locker that the average person can open with a metal ruler, and it gets stolen from the locker, that’s the school’s fault.

  9. MichaelG says:

    It didn’t start with the Baby Boomers. Google “dance marathons” and “flagpole sitting”

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You know whats the most fascinating thing about this story?In the past,kids had to bring all those crap to schools because they had nothing else to waste their time with.But now everyone has a cell phone.And even the dumbest phone has games on them.Not to mention the texting.So the fact that a simple physical toy can triumph over a computer that can be transformed into any toy you wish is fascinating.

    • I’ve seen a fidget spinner app.

    • Development says:

      This shouldn’t be too surprising. Childhood is a period where you are still developing physically, and learning how to control your body as it matures is actually quite fascinating. As much as playing games can offer a kind of cerebral novelty, it’s ultimately not developing that neurological muscular control or understanding of Newtonian mechanics.

      • Tizzy says:

        This goes beyond childhood and current fads. Many cultures appear to have some sort of worry bead type items that adults fidget with all the time. There is comfort to be found in the kinesthetic appeal of such objects.

    • Falterfire says:

      As somebody with ADD who needs something to fiddle with, I think the important thing is that fidgets need to take just the right amount of attention. There are two main problems with phones that make them much worse than spinners for use as an ADD fidget:

      First, phones require you to look at the screen. This is no small thing, especially in a classroom setting where the teacher might have a slideshow up along with the lecture or might be doing work on the board. I don’t have to look down at my hands to spin my fidget spinner.

      Second, phones tend to make it easy to also find myself accidentally drawn into something that eats enough focus that I’m no longer paying attention to whatever I was trying to use the phone as a focus for. It’s pretty much impossible to get so engrossed in my fidget spinner that I lose track of a conversation.

  11. Confanity says:

    I’m going to be just a little optimistic and argue that what you’re talking about isn’t really “inescapable human behavior.” To really demonstrate that, we’d need a rigorous cross-cultural study rather than a handful of cross-generational anecdotes within a single society.

    Instead, let me suggest that at least a significant element of what we’re seeing is the continuity of specific social ills or trends:

    1. The Boomers gave us a vague cultural memory of “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll” against a nihilistic backdrop of potential nuclear Armageddon. Every generation probably laments the vice and indolence of youth, but contemporary America is still dealing with the conflation of a sense of literal existential doom with stuff like the War on Drugs and actual epidemics like HIV and crack cocaine. We’re foggy on the details, but I suspect there remains a faint, amorphous sense that if someone screws up we could all die and that contemporary technology has given us lots of powerful new ways to screw up.

    2. One of the great divides of our society is between commercialism / hard-core capitalism and… well, the opposition to those themes. (Not really communism or even socialism per say; sorry Bernie Sanders; just a sense that large corporations can’t be trusted). Just because there are repeated backlashes against a series of new toys doesn’t mean that those backlashes aren’t localized; it just means that they’re occurring within a long-term framework in which it’s easy to cast any fad (that costs money) as an attack by money-grubbers against the fabric of society.

    3. That said, we live in an era of polarization. I strongly suspect that the past wasn’t really so cooperative and civil as many people who say this are feeling or implying – I mean, the Jim Crow era featured actual murder, which is a lot worse than anything you can do on Twitter – but still there does seem to be a significant need to generate and attack enemies in an expanding set of spheres in our lives. Why just get mad about important political issues when you can get het up about video games, TV shows, music, and what everybody else is letting their damn kids do to corrupt yours.

    I’m not sure that I was able to coherently say what I wanted to express (I’ve got a toddler and don’t always get enough sleep!) but the bottom line is this: Parental attitudes towards children is definitely going to vary according to societal attitudes regarding the roles of people at various ages and their relationships to each other. As a result, I’d say that outrage over fidget spinners is less of a manifestation of a universal human trait (adults getting scared and angry about a fad among the kids) and more of an issue specific to trends within our society that just happen to be spanning decades and passing in some form from one generation to the next in response to ongoing technological and cultural trends. Does that make sense?

    • Viktor says:

      “We’re foggy on the details, but I suspect there remains a faint, amorphous sense that if someone screws up we could all die and that contemporary technology has given us lots of powerful new ways to screw up.”

      It’s not amorphous. Look up sometime how often an equipment failure has told us that nukes were inbound and we decided not to launch in response. Look at how many people have died to global warming already, and that’s only going to get worse. Antibiotics are becoming useless quickly, cyberattacks are targeting our infrastructure to make a quick buck, and Russia is making a play for power. Maybe it will all be fine, but given that global warming is probably irreversible at this point and cyberattacks are a fact of life, we’re probably screwed.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I’ve come up with a pretty good argument, for people who don’t care about the environment, or think that solar / wind / other types of electricity generation is too expensive. It only works if the person is familiar with certain films, although there’s probably more than one franchise you could use. It essentially goes like this, “Do you want to live in the Mad Max world? I’m mentally prepared for eating canned beans, and fighting raiders. Are you similarly prepared?”. Unfortunately, the victory is only brief, since ever generation of people always wants lower taxes. :)

        • Nick Pitino says:

          I have a lot of beefs with wind/solar that don’t have anything to do with them being ‘too expensive’, chiefly that due to their intermittent nature and the requirement that grid electricity be reliable they mostly act as a trojan horse for increased burning of natural gas.

          But that’s a multi thousand word essay with a reference section for another day.

          What turns me off and makes me actively disengage from the topic is that a good majority of the time the people who are actively campaigning for more wind/solar to save the environment are also the exact same people who are actively campaigning against nuclear power despite it being the most powerful tool we have to quickly decarbonize the electric grid NOW.

          To go all tin-foil hat on you for a moment, it makes me suspicious that the people running the movement have crappy ulterior motives.

          • Echo Tango says:

            Sorry, I’m still half-asleep and sick, so I’m not conveying information very well. I meant that using solar/wind/etc was expensive in total, not just the actual machines to make the electricity. Solar panels themselves are dropping in price / have dropped sufficiently, to compete with nuclear in some states in the USA[1]. However, there doesn’t exist enough lead in the world to make enough batteries to run the USA, let alone the world. That would quickly eat up all the money, before you even try to do it with newer, more expensive materials like lithium.

            The other way your could do solar / wind / etc, is to match manufacturing / electricity consumption, to the electricity production. That’s possible to do, but would mean that a nation’s economic output has to change with the seasons and day / night. That’s possible to do, but would be a drastic departure from the normal 40-hour, year-round work life that a lot of jobs have. [2] Some processes, like metal smelting, have huge energy stores in the molten metal. I can’t find the video / article, but one company is calculated to start using about 30% solar/wind electricity for aluminum smelting, because they will change their shifts / schedule to more closely match solar/wind electricity production.

            Any way you look at it, solar/wind/etc is very difficult/time-consuming/costly, in either implementing existing technologies, or trying to manufacture more batteries/stores we don’t have, or inventing new technologies. I can envision a future where most of our energy is from solar/wind/batteries/etc, but to get from here to there is going to cost a lot of money. :)

            [1] I can’t find the source for this anymore. It was somewhere south enough to get lots of sun, but without any existing / neighboring nuclear power. They did a cost analysis per watt, but noted that the solar solution would need to use natural gas to act as a load-balancer / backup.

            [2] Compare a steady 40-hour work-week that’s year-round, like an office / laboratory job, to seasonal work, like highway construction up here in Canada. It’s about 6 months of the year, and in the peak of summer, you’re working up to 14-hour days. (Plus in winter, you’re not working that job at all.) Even accounting for air-conditioning, and sitting at a nice desk, that’s still a large change from normal office work.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            The intermittency problem can be solved even with current technology,and new ways are constantly being researched.The real big problem with solar/wind is the same problem that keeps nuclear from fully replacing coal even decades after it was made viable:The cost of the infrastructure.You cannot just convert an existing power plant into a different type of plant and call it a day.No,you have to do it from scratch.Same goes for the mines,in case of the nuclear power.And its not just the plant itself that needs a full replacement,but the workers in that plant as well.

            But with solar/wind,you also have to make them at viable locations.You cannot just erect a solar field wherever,you have to find a huge empty place with lots of sun.This is also why most countries use thermoelectric power plants instead of hydroelectric ones,even though both have been invented at about the same time.You can plop a thermal plant wherever you wish,but with hydro you have to find a suitable river,and maybe even do some big messing around with it as well.

          • Echo Tango says:

            Several hours later, I realize I completely forgot about yoru point about nuclear. Yeah, nuclear would solve our energy problems relatively easily, compared to solar/wind. Sure, we’d still need some liquid fuels for heavy transportation, but that’s only about 1/3-ish of the energy used. The rest could be straight electricity. Nuclear (of whatever variety) isn’t an intermittent power source. :)

    • Steve C says:

      How does this and the entire thread it created not violate the no politics rule? (None of it offends/bothers me but… come on! It’s clearly politics.)

      • Shamus says:

        Yeah. What the heck, guys?

        Sometimes I think people can sense when I’m inattentive. (I’ve been neck-deep in Unity since yesterday and have basically stopped doing anything else.)

        To those of you who disagree but DIDN’T feel the need to weigh in and turn this thread into THAT argument again: Thanks!

        EDIT: And just to be clear, please consider this topic closed.

        • Echo Tango says:

          My apologies; I should have not responded to the comment, but I thought I was having a discussion about technology, and not politics. Not trying to dispute you, just provide context. Again, sorry for that.

  12. djw says:

    I’d be willing to bet that adults complaining about the activities of children is as old as writing itself.

    They probably did it in pre-historic times too, but those illiterates never wrote anything down, so we have no proof.

  13. Bloodsquirrel says:

    So I just found out from Penny Arcade that there’s a Darksiders III trailer finally out. Neat.

  14. Jeysie says:

    Banning them seems kind of lousy for kids with ADD or other focus issues. I’m an adult who’s always had focus issues, and I find that having my body occupied helps my mind not start wandering. I spent my childhood with a reputation of being annoyingly hyper, and my adulthood has been a web of attempts at coping mechanisms. (My childhood was too, really… hair twirling, pencil tapping, playing with slap bracelets…)

    I’ve recently decided to buy and try a fidgety toy because pacing only works for certain types of thinking, and resorting to eating/munching as a way to keep my body occupied while I read/watch/otherwise concentrate on something is doing awful things to my waistline.

    • Echo Tango says:

      There’s also “spinner rings” that often get sold with other men’s (and possibly women’s) jewelry. If you’re googling for it, about half the results will be for prayer/meditation. Those ones are a lot more intricate and expensive. :)

      • Jeysie says:

        Sadly I can’t wear most jewelry myself (I get contact rashes from metal), but now that you mention them and I look them up, the cheaper ones might be a way around the bans for affected kids.

        • Echo Tango says:

          All metals, or just the cheaper stuff? My dad had to wear gold or titanium watches, because the cheaper metals would give him a rash, including most steels. (Steel being about mid-way on the cost chart between nickel-plated junk, and gold.) Plus his sweat (and mine) would corrode those metals. I luckily can wear high-grade stainless, in addition to gold and titanium[1]. Depending on who’s selling it, it might be called “medical grade” or “jewelry grade” stainless steel. i.e. More expensive, but better for most people who would otherwise get rashes. My brother has a platinum wedding band, although I believe that’s even more expensive than titanium. :)

          [1] But I’m not making gold/titanium money, so I’ll stick with my affordable steel! :)

          • Jeysie says:

            Anything I can afford, basically. If it doesn’t give me a rash, it turns my skin green (i.e. why I finally gave up on wearing earrings; I was tired of having to constantly clean green gunk out of the holes). It’s most annoying when it comes to watches; I had to macguyver a doofy-looking clip-on watch out of the clip-on for a cheap keychain thingy and a sportswatch with the band removed because apparently nobody sells nice-looking clip-on digital watches. (I’d even settle for the masculinity of a pocket watch if they made digital display ones…)

            Even on top of the rashes, I hate having anything encircling my skin too tightly. Even if I know it’s loose enough, my brain still insists I’m being choked/squeezed by whatever it is. May well be that my ADD and sensitive skin are related.

            (Just as well I’ll probably never find anyone to marry me; I’d have no idea where I’d feasibly wear a wedding ring.)

            • Echo Tango says:

              You can probably MacGuyver a pocket watch out of a normal wrist watch, and some ingenuity with the chain/cord. Alternately, searching Amazon today shows me two decent-looking steel-looking ones for < $100 CAD / < $75 USD at today's exchange rate.

              As for wedding rings – back in college I once saw a man in the university gym, who had his wedding ring tattooed onto his finger. My girlfriend of the time refused to entertain anything other than yellow gold[1], although I myself thought it was an inventive solution for that man, to the shit-where-did-I-misplace-my-ring problem. Fear not – You'll find somebody who is also allergic to metal, or just doesn't care about "proper" / "traditional" jewerly! :)

              [1] Yuck! Worst color for jewerly in my opinion, unless you have (fairly) dark skin. Otherwise, I like silver-/steel-colored stuff. :)

            • Nessus says:

              Look for nurse’s watches. They’re basically like wristwatch-sized pocket watches designed to be clipped to a shirtfront like a medal. I think you can even get just the band/chain so you can convert a regular wristwatch to a nurse’s watch.The watch doesn’t go in a pocket, it just clips/pins directly to the outside of your clothes so you can check the time just by quickly lifting it and glancing down.

            • Tried putting clear nail polish on the inside of the ring? I do that for copper so my skin doesn’t go green, but it should provide enough of a barrier to prevent skin reacting to metal too, if you coat it well.

    • Knitting’s been my savior for that sort of thing, I can play with yarn and read/watch stuff with my hands occupied. Might be worthwhile to check out different sorts of handicrafts (knitting, origami, spinning, whittling…) to see if any one of them works for you. I went through crocheting, piecing, needlepoint, coloring, and cross-stitch before knitting grabbed my brain and stuck.

      My other solution is read and watch stuff at the same time, which is workable but less optimal. I retain far less of either what I’m reading or watching that way.

      • Philadelphus says:

        I took to crocheting during long weekly meetings at my previous job because with 20% of my mind occupied with that the other 80% could focus on the meeting; without anything to occupy my hands, 100% of my mind would be wandering.

  15. Micamo says:

    The thing that pisses me off about the whole fad is that fidget spinners are part of a class of tools for autistic people called stim toys. Stimming is really helpful by making it possible for us to focus and reducing the possibility of a violent outburst later, and they’re essentially necessary for autistic kids to be able to function in a classroom.

    But now they’re getting taken away from the autistic kids same as everyone else. Imagine if it became a fad to just roll around in a wheelchair all the time, so schools started banning them even for the kids who can’t walk unaided and need them.

    • Echo Tango says:

      It would be totally understandable, if some kids got to keep the gadgets for theraputic use. I myself[1] spin my bottle-opener ring, or mess with my pen, when I’m in a boring meeting, in a stressful situation, or even when I need to think particularly hard. It’s difficult to explain to children or teenagers, but some things which aren’t “medicine” or “drugs”, can be needed by people for different reasons, and so those people might need exceptions to the “rules” in school. :)

      [1] I do not have ADD or ADHD, although I am fairly fidgety for somebody without any such condition.

    • MelTorefas says:

      It goes both ways though. I am an autistic adult, and when I was a kid I actually had an easy time concentrating in class, *except* when people where doing stuff like, say, spinning things. I don’t know much about these spinners, so I suppose it depends on how discreetly they can be used, but I could see their use being significantly distracting.

      Not to dismiss your point though, it is absolutely correct that self-regulatory stimulus is an incredibly valuable/necessary thing, and schools should absolutely accommodate that need. Just not at the expense of others (which I am not saying this spinner would be; just, if it is).

  16. Cuthalion says:

    Hear, hear!

  17. Licaon_Kter says:

    Around here “Kendama” rules, what can I say, “at least they’re not doing drugs” !? :)

  18. I spent the majority of my youth using this thing, having MacGuyvered it from whatever plastic trash I could get hold of. I always associated it more with hula hoops than spinning and the fact they think its ‘fidgety’ makes me worried for how they would’ve viewed my behavior as a child…

  19. John says:

    I don’t have a problem with fidget spinners. My daughter, age 8, has wanted one for a while. To her, it must seem that all the other kids have fidget spinners.* With the possible exception of Minecraft**, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her really drawn to something because it’s so popular with other kids. So when we passed by some in the grocery store yesterday, her mother and I let her spend $4 of her own money on one. She’s having fun, for the moment. It won’t last. Fidget spinners don’t actually do very much and she’ll get bored. So will all the other kids. I do have a problem with kids not paying attention in class. If the fidget spinners are disruptive, then by all means confiscate the fidget spinners. But I find both the fascination with and moral panic regarding fidget spinners utterly alien.

    * Not all of the other kids have fidget spinners. Some of them have these reusable watter bottles with a mist function and they run around spraying mist in each others’ faces instead.

    ** My daughter is keenly interested in watching her cousins play Minecraft but has never expressed a convincing desire to play it herself.

  20. Darren says:

    A) They might be legitimately annoying. Do they make any kind of noise? How likely are kids to drop it clattering to the floor (my guess: very)?

    B) I spent some time as a high school teacher, and I think you’re wildly underestimating how awful kids are with stuff like this. I had students who really liked sunflower seeds. Honestly, why do I care if a kid is sneaking a healthy snack from their pockets during class? I was aware that kids were doing it, but it seemed so frivolous to crack down on it. Until a kid jammed a bag full of seed shells into a wire outlet in the library. I had a colleague who allowed kids to drink water in her classroom, because…it’s water, who cares, right? Until a kid brought in vodka and proceeded to get alcohol poisoning in class.

    Basically, if humanity at large never learns from its past, humanity up close is filled with enough awful, stupid people that it colors your outlook. Did you hear about the 10-year-old who choked on a part of one of these spinners? 10 years old should be old enough to not choke to death on a good-sized plastic toy, and yet it happened. Guarantee that the people near that idiot kid had a reaction to it that we’d say is unwarranted.

    • Echo Tango says:

      I knew a couple guys in high-school who did things similar to the sunflower-seed shell thing. Damaged school band instruments, desks, etc. They got better (medicated) in grade 10-12, but in grade 9, they were pretty destructive. Also helped that they had more friends. We’d try and find more things to do during non-class / lunch / extra-curricular time, and physically restrained them once or twice too. Good learning experiences. :)

      • Darren says:

        But you get what I’m saying, right? It’s easy to say that humanity as a whole is better than we give it credit for when you aren’t dealing with the relatively small percentage of humanity that is horrifically awful.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Sure,but on which side of the line do you think its better to stand?To inconvenience the majority in order to prevent the minority from doing dumb things?Or to let the minority do the dumb things and inconvenience the majority with their actions?

          Personally,Id let the minority compete for the darwin awards if they so desire.

          • Darren says:

            It’s part of schools’ job to prevent Darwin awards, and it’s less about inconveniencing the majority or protecting the minority than about covering their own asses.

          • Ed Blair says:

            That’s a pretty grandiose and asinine stand to take on toys in a classroom.

            Being a functional member of society is a huge part of schooling.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              No,thats parenting.Schools are there to teach you reading and writing,science,and job skills,not to replace your parents in teaching you manners and how to survive a choking hazard.

              • Ed Blair says:

                Your response is as arrogantly smug as it is ill informed. You don’t have children and haven’t been involved in a school environment since you were in school yourself.

                Yes, parents teach you how to behave in public. Yes, schools teach academic subjects. You are debating a platonic ideal where there are simple lines to draw like that.

                A stupendously important part of school is the social interactions that occur. This starts, in the US, from kindergarten and continues on through HS and college or tech school. Young children learn how to wait in lines, what sorts of behaviors are acceptable in different places. They learn from their peer groups, often for the first time, as they start school. Middle schoolrrd and high schoolers add things like independence and sexual identity and so many other things I won’t list here

                To anticipate your standard simpering troll-like response:

                No, it isn’t just at school that these things occur.
                No, it isn’t all positive.
                There are exceptions to everything I’ve said. There are super successful home schoolers and horrible disasters from public school.

                I have a degree in education. I taught grades 6-12 in one of the most economically depressed potions of the country where a large portion of my students were raised by a single parent or by grand parents due to incarceration or being orphaned/abandoned. I WAS a parent to many of my students who didn’t have a single damned positive role model in their lives outside of school. I worked for a pediatric mental health agency in college. I performed home welfare checks and staffed a summer program designed to support these kids in an early intervention effort to help them learn some of these skills.

                It’s entirely possible that if you have some snappy, half-assed retort, I may not have been able to convey the full depth and breadth of how wrong you are in a single forum comment.

                • Viktor says:

                  Don’t argue with DL. He’s a troll and you can’t win.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Despite ill faith shown by you,Ill still respond to the key difference here with good faith:

                  in the US

                  This is the difference between what you are talking about and what Im talking about.Where I live,school is a way less time consuming thing.Kindergarten is not mandatory,and elementary schools start by having kids there for 4,5 hours most.Kids spend way more time at home until about age 11,12.The fact that many parents are unable to spend that free time with their kids is the failure of other factors that Im not going to go into,but its definitely not “the right way”,and it was not the way it used to be when the country was more stable.

                  So Im not talking about some platonic ideal,Im talking about something that is achievable,that was achieved(for a time)in my country,and that is achieved in some other countries(from what I heard from my friends,at least).Just because its not how things work where you live does not make me wrong,or a troll,or whatever other insult you want to hurl at me.

                • Shamus says:

                  The fact that you’re a teacher and this is how you talk to people is kind of shocking. I really hope you’re not this impatient, confrontational, and condescending to your students.

                  While I’m sure there are many fine teachers out there (I had a couple) there are also people who are BEYOND obnoxious. Pushy, authoritarian, petty, condescending, impatient. I hated every interaction I had with them. While the good ones were REALLY good, the bad ones outnumbered the good by a large margin. I don’t know if you’ve got the stomach for it, but in the archives you can read the Autoblography, which contains whole bunch of anecdotes of how I was treated in public school. That’s just a sampling of them. It was not pretty.

                  My wife didn’t have a good time at school either. Despite being trained as an educator (dual major special ed + elementary ed) she didn’t want to send our kids to that place after we had such a bad time of it. So we home schooled our 3 children. They managed to learn fancy skills like “standing in line” without institutional help. They are knowledgeable, considerate, productive, fit, and hard-working. This was accomplished without the desks, worksheets, toy confiscation, and social humiliation for which school is famous. As a bonus they never went through a “teen estrangement” phase. We never had sullen, distant teens who kept secrets from us. We were able to have open, honest talks about sex, drugs, and violence. (And still do. It’s not one conversation, but an ongoing process.) They don’t roll their eyes at adult advice.

                  “I may not have been able to convey the full depth and breadth of how wrong you are in a single forum comment.”

                  Likewise, I’m having trouble conveying just how misinformed you are in a single comment. A lot of time in school is spent not teaching kids knowledge, but in trying to make kids behave in a classroom situation. Hold still. Shut up. Stand in line. Now stand in this one. Fill out this worksheet. Eat. Oh, you’re not hungry yet? Too bad. This is the only time all day you’ll be allowed to eat. If I catch you with food later I’ll confiscate it and punish you. Stop socializing and listen to me talk. Okay, now you MUST socialize with other kids. Yes, even the ones that despise you. I will judge you on your ability to “work with them” (placate them) and get things done despite the way they treat you.

                  Those aren’t “life skills”. None of that is for the benefit of the kid. All of it is for the benefit of the system. It’s classroom management. And that’s fine. If you want to put 30 ten-year-olds in the same room for six hours, that’s what you gotta do. But I HATE this attitude that this stuff is doing the kids a favor. I hate when people suggest that it was all for my own good. It wasn’t. It made me miserable, and I didn’t really bloom socially OR intellectually until I escaped that madhouse.

                  For one example, you suggest that school teaches kids how to “stand in line”. Amazing fact: My kids can do that too! It’s not a lesson that requires you spend 20 minutes a day, 180 days a year, for 12 years of your life (final total: an entire MONTH of your life spent standing in lines) to learn how to do. The same goes for a lot of other things you’re giving schools credit for. My kids learned how to behave in public, work as part of a team, and get along with others, without spending all those years being classroom managed.

                  So yeah. Not super thrilled with teachers who think that classroom management is a blessing they’re bestowing on kids, and not a necessary evil of institutional schooling. I’m even less thrilled when people act like kids would have no idea how to behave in public or accomplish things if they didn’t spend 12 years of their life in a classroom.

                  Also: Please be respectful of people you disagree with.

                  • Redingold says:

                    Shamus, just because you had a shitty experience at school doesn’t mean everyone did. I was homeschooled for a period, and school was way better. Don’t act like every school gleefully imposes stupid and arbitrary rules on its students, or that there aren’t parents who impose stupid and arbitrary rules on their children. Even the worst teachers I’ve had weren’t as bad as that little italicised section you wrote up there, and I know people whose parents would be thoroughly unsuited for homeschooling. I was educated in the UK, not the US, but is it that much worse over there?

                    Don’t go around acting as if terrible teachers outnumber good ones just because they did in your own life. That’s poor reasoning.

                    • Shamus says:

                      “Don’t go around acting as if terrible teachers outnumber good ones just because they did in your own life.”

                      Don’t go around putting words in my mouth.

                      Also, my comment was specifically a response to Ed Blair, who was using anecdotes to support his position. My anecdotes are just as valid as his, even if you disagree with me and agree with him.

                    • Redingold says:

                      I can’t respond to your comment so I’ll just post this here: I did not put words in your mouth. You explicitly said, and I quote:

                      While I’m sure there are many fine teachers out there (I had a couple) there are also people who are BEYOND obnoxious. Pushy, authoritarian, petty, condescending, impatient. I hated every interaction I had with them. While the good ones were REALLY good, the bad ones outnumbered the good by a large margin.

                      How am I meant to interpret this as anything but you saying that bad teachers outnumber good ones?

                      Edit: I apologise, I see now I misread your comment. I read that final sentence as “the bad ones outnumber the good by a large margin”.

                  • Ed Blair says:

                    You may consider me rightly rebuked for my tone of voice. I also apologize for ignoring the your instructions about posting angry. However, don’t conflate my response to the utter insanity of the comment I responded to with my personal or professional life.

                    I’ve been a daily reader of your blog for almost a decade. I own the Witch Watch. I identified with a lot of the things you have posted about your family life over the years. I don’t have a long history of posting in the comments on your blog because I didn’t feel I had much to offer or someone else already articulated it better, but I’ve been here for a long time and have read every single post, including your Autoblography.

                    DL made the assertion that school is for academic skills and that’s it. That is wholly, and completely wrong. It is fundamentally wrong. I proved XKCD comic 386. Ask yourself, if Heather had chosen to go teach, what sort of impact would she have had on the lives of the kids she worked with every day? I bet it would be a hell of a lot more than what’s on the lesson plan for the day. You both chose to home school and that’s great! I’m not arguing that traditional schooling is the only path to success or life skills. Your children turned out the way they did because of the way they were raised. I’m arguing that teachers are part of that process, good, bad or indifferent. I picked a simple quick example from the beginning of an academic career because I was typing on my phone. You’re right to mock the idea that schools teach standing in line, but I was trying (and I guess failing) to make a broader point.

                    One of my children is special-needs. We’ve struggled for two years getting her the help that she needs. Her teacher this year has been amazing, and the work they have put in together has literally altered the trajectory of her life.

                    I also understand that you had a crappy hand dealt to you, horrible adults and teachers in your life, compounded with health issues. School was hell for you, and it is for a lot of kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s a waste for everyone.

                    You describe classroom management like it’s a club to be wielded against the students. That’s one way to do it, and it’s the wrong way. I’m sorry that this seems to be your experience and your schema for schools. Good classroom management creates an environment where everyone can operate to the maximum potential. Classes are now frequently differentiated, where smaller groups are broken out of the whole to work with peer groups of similar skill-sets and aptitudes. One-size-fits-all instruction is going the way of the dodo in elementary education.

                    On the topic of schooling being the only place to learn how to be a member of society, that’s a specious argument. I didn’t argue that it was the only place. It’s part of the equation. I certainly don’t believe that, and I don’t parent like that at all. But I can say that as someone who dealt with such a large age range of kids, that there is a huge amount of growing up that happens in school. It happens in extra-curricular activities like marching band, sports teams, drama productions. It happens outside of schooling in church, scouts, living-rooms, or wherever kids are.

                    Additionally, there are those kids who don’t have a home life. Where school is the only place they interact with functioning adults. I mentioned earlier, I’ve freaking been there. I’ve been the father to kids who weren’t mine, because I was one of the only functional adults they had any interaction with. Due to the nature of the subjects I taught, I would see the same kids for their entire tenure from 6th through 12th. Despite the claims of DL, I mattered. I freaking mattered and they would tell you the same thing. I still talk to a lot of them, years later and a thousand miles away. They share their joys and tragedies with me still, and it’s not because I classroom managed them.

                    I’m not arguing that it’s all happiness and roses. I’m not saying it’s the only way. I’m saying it matters.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Despite the claims of DL, I mattered.

                      If thats what youve taken issue with,I never said that you did not matter.I never said that NO teacher CAN help their students,I said that its NOT their job.Theres a big difference.Let me explain:

                      Do you know what I do when a less tech savvy colleague asks me to help them around a computer problem?I help them.But thats NOT my job.It matters to them,because they dont have to go through the official tech support channels and lose time waiting for a silly problem to be solved.It matters to the tech support guy,because he doesnt have to waste time dealing with every little problem.And it matters to me,because I build friendly ties with my colleagues.But it is still NOT my job.

                      Same goes for the teachers:Its not their job to parent their students.Those who do,do it out of the goodness of their hearts.That does not automatically make them better teachers,but it does make them better persons.

          • Syal says:

            If the majority responds to the troublemaker by beating them up, does the majority get punished, or does it fall in the same category of letting kids be kids?

          • Ed Blair says:

            Personally,Id let the minority compete for the darwin awards if they so desire.

            This makes you a troll.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Really?Making jokes makes one a troll?Well,Ill go revising the dictionaries then.

              • Viktor says:

                No, arguing in bad faith does. Taking stances that are evil or idiotic and waiting to see if someone calls you on it before you decide if it’s a joke or serious is classic trolling.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  No, arguing in bad faith does.

                  You mean deliberately following someone only to insult them and not add anything meaningful to the discussion?I wonder which comment here fits that.

                  Taking stances that are evil or idiotic and waiting to see if someone calls you on it before you decide if it’s a joke or serious is classic trolling.

                  Wait,because I argued the serious part of my comment seriously and confirmed that the joking part of it was joking Im suddenly deciding post fact?Or am I not allowed to switch between humor and sincerity and must do either one or the other,no nuance ever,only clear cut black and white?

                  • Viktor says:

                    “Sure,but on which side of the line do you think its better to stand?To inconvenience the majority in order to prevent the minority from doing dumb things?Or to let the minority do the dumb things and inconvenience the majority with their actions?

                    Personally,Id let the minority compete for the darwin awards if they so desire.”

                    It’s you. Based on your past posts, “Stupid kids aren’t worth the effort to keep alive” seems 100% sincere. And since that’s the crux of the argument you made, clearly it is serious, and attempts to play it off as joking are bull.

                    Edit: Crap, and now I’m arguing with you, right after I tell someone else not to bother. Screw this, I’m out.

        • Echo Tango says:

          I get your point, although I personally haven’t dealt with the horrifically badly behaved; Just the very badly behaved. I wasn’t trying to argue the relative badness of the people you described, but simply sharing my personal experience. I myself am glad that I live in a country which thinks all people can change for the better, but I wouldn’t be able to deal with the small minority you describe. My patience is too short for that. :)

  21. rabs says:

    We used to spin pens in class, back in my time.
    Don’t know how much the spinners can mess around, but having a pen falling/flying around repeatedly seems worse. I also remember a case when one suddenly started leaking ink…

    Unfortunately, even with our best efforts, pens where never banned.

    It’s some skill I didn’t lose, when I’m bored during a meeting or whatever I can spin a pen with good success. Won’t put that on my CV, though.

    • Tizzy says:

      I remember that! Never could pull it off myself, but I remember it spreading through the school like wildfire. The more talented could spin one in each hand, in sync. And to this day I recall a teacher being somewhat flustered trying to listen to a student’s question while the guy was spinning his pens without even realizing it.

      Good times.

    • Jabrwock says:

      In my experience so far, it’s not the spinning that’s the distraction. It’s when the kids start to try to do tricks, so now you have spinners flying everywhere same as the pens used to.

  22. Christopher says:

    I remember friendship bracelets being banned because of some dumb sex thing on the news. I was a little too old to be into it, but it was something about how certain colors meant different sexual acts or ripping them meant you had to perform them on others. I wish I’d listened closer so I could talk about that whole thing in more detail, but I just thought it sounded stupid and tuned it out.

    For me, the big thing to be into was Pokemon cards. To be fair to the teachers who got real tired of us, we were maniacs about them, and could get very upset when we lost them in a bet/did a bad trade. Nobody ever learned the game and played it, we were just collecting them and flipping cards(heads and tails) to decide who took each others’ cards. I’m Norwegian, so the whole “Pokemon is Satanic” thing wasn’t a thing here.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ah yes,the good old “have you heard the devious sexual acts your kids are preforming these days?”.My favorite is the rainbow party scare.Toothing was also amusing.

      • Echo Tango says:

        Rainbow parties are for modern kids with access to parents’ credit cards! Back in my day, the kids were telling stories about Smarty Parties (and later Skittles Parties). Candy is cheaper than makeup! ^^;

  23. MelTorefas says:

    I had heard fidget spinners mentioned (specifically, by Brian Kibler during his Hearthstone stream), but I had no idea what they were until I read this. Now I am strongly considering getting one. I am autistic, and find tactile stimulus is a great way to deal with other, less pleasant stimuli (such as my chronic pain disorder).

    My current fidget item of choice is an intact vertebrae from some animal, which I found on a cliff back on the island where I grew up almost 20 years ago. I just had to superglue it back together for the third time the other day. I love the shape/texture of it and have used it for a long time, but having something explicitly made for the purpose (rather than a slowly decaying bit of animal bone) seems like it would be nice.

    (Also, sorry if the whole ‘random bit of animal bone’ thing is weird. I don’t have a good sense of what other people think is weird.)

  24. Primogenitor says:

    I’m sure it won’t be long until some enterprising educator creates an educational dissection of fidget spinners (the physics of rotational momentum and inertia, mass-production in low-wage economies, historical context of international trade, art of marketting, etc) and then spreads it on the internet to all classrooms, because clearly once you make children learn about something then they won’t want to do it themselves ;)

  25. My sister’s school brought in a rule saying you had to have a doctor’s note to have a spinner in class, on account of them being first developed for autism, so half her class came in with forged autism… accreditation? I don’t know. The scenario sounds incredible.

    In my experience banning things in classrooms that are “distracting” is usually just displaced adjectives. It IS distracting, but to the teacher not the students. There’s an argument to be made for how teachers are human and that banning is a scorched earth type policy to help them keep their shit in control, but that’s neither here nor there. None of it really excuses how the mass media reacts, which is always with utter shock and fear.

  26. Groboclown says:

    I think the toy cars Shamus was referring to were Stompers. I just remember these things as a source for little electric motors that I would try to figure out what to do with. I usually just ended up making a fan out of them.

    I also remember the wind-up toys called “Penny Racers” (apprently originally called Choro-Q?). They had a slot where you could put a penny, which would off-balance the car and it would do wheelies.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      I don’t remember their theme song but I could sing the one for Rough Riders 4×4 (you can try and stop ’em). Apparently they don’t have a Wikipedia page I can link to which makes me sad.

  27. Zak McKracken says:

    Not sure if I remember the quote correctly but I think Douglas Adams once wrote than anything that happens before you turn 12 has always been there, anything that happens between then and 20 is the cool new stuff, and anything that happens after you turn 30 is newfangled nonsense. — or something like this.

    Basically, what happens is that people settle into this world, and once they got most things worked out for themselves, they don’t like that to be disturbed. Adapting your habits is hard, and for most it becomes harder over time, unless you consciously practice. That also affects things to which you don’t really need to adapt but they’re just different from how it was. Suddenly your knowledge of “that’s how it is” is in danger of becoming invalid.

    I don’t believe anyone who says they are never (or will never be) affected by this.

  28. Benjamin Hilton says:

    I think perceived disrespect from teachers is a big problem. One of the things I’ve carried with me is the memory of being really confused when adults disregarded something I said out of hand. When your a child, from your perspective what you have to say is just as valid as everyone else. Its something I think alot of adults forget. I dont know if they’re just unable to remember what that was like, or if the do remember but it doesn’t stop them from cracking down on “silly” behavior now, or if its some sort of “adults being harsh made me who I am so I’ll so the same to give these kids character” kind of deal or if they think back to what they were like as kids, dont like what they see, and are rude to children as a way of lashing out at their former selves. Furthermore I think this results in the “we kids were always mystified” problem. If you crack down on the toys while disregarding their importance to the child then the child learns the wrong lesson. Instead of thinking “oh I shouldn’t do that during class” they think “the teacher just doesn’t like my toys. But why? Adults are weird and sometimes mean for no reason”.

  29. Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

    I don’t know if this helps but until this post, I didn’t even know that pattern was still in effect. I guess school fads are about the only thing that hasn’t been affected by fragmentation. Which I guess makes sense because schools haven’t fragmented yet. Which is a bit depressing because I’d figured the fragmentation of culture would be liberation for succeeding generations of public school attendees. But I guess school sucks as much as ever with its limited tolerance for a small number of subcultures.

    Anyway, so since I haven’t seen the pattern in evidence in about two decades, it would catch me off guard to see it again if I ever had a kid and I hadn’t read this post.

    Honestly, I thought the children of the Gen-Xers were mostly grown up. The Zeds are hitting voting age as we speak.

  30. Dreadjaws says:

    But then I saw they were $15 on Amazon and I was like, “Nah”.

    The best-selling ones on Amazon seem to be around $3-5. I guess a $15 will be better quality.

    Anyway, I had the same reaction here. People just love to complain about popular things. The problem is that it’s not really a complain directed exclusively at kids. Fidget spinners are, from what I’ve read not just from the sales pitch, from trusty sources as well, devices that help people with anxiety and stress. I have to say, the idea is sound. I suffer from anxiety and I feel the need to constantly manipulate stuff. If I’m at home, I can play videogames to scratch that itch, but at work I need to have a couple of stuff to handle (such as a small toy bike I keep on the desk).

    All I see is the same problem I see everywhere, with stuff like selfie sticks or vaping. People just can’t see others enjoy themselves with harmless or even beneficial trinkets. They have to think those things are stupid or evil or otherwise they can’t feel good.

    All that stress is bad, maybe they should get a fidget spinner to help.

  31. Rack says:

    The thing that strikes me is this is the first classroom scare of this kind I’ve heard of since mobile Internet. It’s hardly the whack-a-mole situation with everything being banned that you describe experiencing yourself.

    That and my own situation was one where the kids were largely left free to run riot. This might be just a stage in the cycle that’s been missed. It didn’t go Extreme Discipline -> Extreme Discipline but, Extreme Discipline -> Total Anarchy -> Extreme Discipline.

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