Gone are the days of chalkboards, abacuses, and dunce caps. Nowadays elementary-school students (of a certain social stratus) tote iPads and laptops and get shamed for their stupidity on social media.
And while the prospect of Little Billy jumping on Plantation Middle School's wireless network to polish his social studies project or learn about the mating habits of monarch butterflies is great, one group says the invisible radio waves beaming around the building are an overlooked and understudied health hazard.
Members of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine earlier this month gathered in St. Petersburg, Florida, to deliver a new position statement urging schools to back away from wireless internet connections and revert to hard wiring. "Adverse health effects from wireless radio frequency fields, such as learning disabilities, altered immune responses, and headaches, clearly exist and are well documented in the scientific literature," the statement claims.
Dr. Amy Dean, president of the group, is board-certified in internal medicine and environmental medicine. She says wireless connections are responsible for everything from increased rates of ADHD to memory problems to wonky DNA in school-aged children.
"DNA is the blueprint of our body. These frequencies aren't normally found in nature, and they're causing structural damage to our blueprint," Dean contends. "The more Wi-Fi that's introduced into the environment, the more people are being exposed and affected."
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Really? Before taking a baseball bat to that wireless modem and router, keep in mind that the AAEM isn't part of the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the website Quackwatch has consistently called the group out for hawking questionable theories and pushing the "bogus concept of multiple chemical sensitivity."
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization says that, to date, "there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak [radio frequency] signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."
Dean disagrees. She says there are "too many studies showing a direct link" between Wi-Fi frequencies and health hazards. Sweden's prestigious Karolinska Institute Neuroscience Department issued a statement last year suggesting that pregnant woman should avoid using wireless devices until the science behind the claims is better understood.
As for allegations that she and her associates are a bunch of Luddites longing for a return to pencil and papers, Dean says that's hardly the case. "We aren't anti-technology," she says. "We're just calling for safer technology."