When we started WildWise almost ten years ago, it was to provide something missing from the mainstream culture around us. Something more humane, more conducive to the growth and wellbeing of the children and young adults we served. At WildWise we love imagining and then creating the best possible environment we can for learning, growing, and building community. That’s why starting immediately, we will no longer allow student smartphones on campus or in any of our programs, and our staff will only use smartphones to take pictures of students and activities.

We didn’t come to this decision quickly or lightly, but we embrace it wholeheartedly. We are excited by it. The list of reasons is long and familiar to all of us at this point. Constant access to everyone and everything—pinged directly into our pockets, into our ears, onto our wrists—is not helping us to know and love ourselves, know and love each other. It doesn’t give anyone any space, time, or quiet—all essential aspects of the wellbeing that we are trying to cultivate here. Mental and emotional wellbeing, absolutely. But also: intellectual, creative, physical, and social wellbeing. The fundamental structure of WildWise is that we are a community of fewer than a hundred people, living together face-to-face in our corner of the Kitsap Peninsula. Deeply, purposefully, here, now, in person. Can you imagine a technology less conducive to that project?

WildWise is not an island. It is firmly in this world, not apart from it, and should never pretend otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it should be exactly the same as what’s outside the Port Gamble Heritage Forest and our Kingston Meadows Campus. If it were exactly the same, there would be no reason for WildWise to exist. We have always tried to do something different here, to build something different. We have tried to make a purposeful space, an intentional community, where people can truly see themselves and each other.

We’re not worried that thirty weeks a year without a smartphone for a few hours a day will leave anyone less prepared for anything they may have to face. We believe the opposite is true. The best preparation for anything—any school, any college, any career, any life—is to know yourself well, and to know how to be in community. When you know your own values, ethics, aesthetics, mind, and heart, then you are ready for any kind of world.

We’ll still have internet on campus, and students will still have access to computers or tablets when the need arises for research and academic work.
It is clear that smartphones are not serving our studentrs well. They deserve to speak with their own voices to caring and committed adults whose job it is to hear and understand them. They deserve to be more than data for Google to mine. They deserve to be more than Apple’s customers. They deserve an education that will take them seriously, will allow them to make beauty with their own hands and minds and hearts. They deserve a WildWise that is about them in the fullness of their complicated selves, not a WildWise lived through the lens of an app.
Consciously setting aside a technology that’s not helping us is a step forward, not a step backward. We’re not idealizing or trying to recreate the past at WildWise. We’re helping shape its future, and the futures of the communities around us. Just like we have for the last ten years, just like we hope to for a hundred more.