Cell Phones in Schools

It was news recently that a nearby high school banned cell phones in school.

To many educator friends, this was a slam dunk: “I wish they’d do that in my school”, “It’s about time!”

Personally, it’s a place to lean heavily on my love of cognitive dissonance.

Obviously, cell phones are a major distraction in class. I personally ask my students to place cell phones on a side table for rehearsal. There are many other creative strategies for dealing with phones. (But let’s not hit people on the head with them, as one teacher did not so long ago…) No educator can be effective when students are being distracted by their texts, Tweets, Pokémon Go, or Snapchats.

Just as obviously, students’ phones are an integral part of their existence–as they are for most adults! Google, Wikipedia, calendar, email, audio recording: these are all legitimate uses of phones we take for granted in day-to-day life, and that are appropriate for use in class. My students generally have a moment in each rehearsal when they have to collect their phones in order to check a calendar conflict or make a note to themselves.

We rely on phones for communication, information, and efficiency…and so should our high school students. A responsible junior at Lakeview this fall will be told an assignment is due in 10 days, but be unable to mark the due date into his personal calendar. She will write it down in a notebook, and she will need a lot of luck to remember to transfer it to her phone eight hours later, after her track practice, ortho appointment, and dinner. I live and die by my digital calendar, and would struggle with the limitations this ban would impose.

An outright ban is both unenforceable and far too simplistic a reaction. Digital presence, appropriate usage, and human respect should be taught and encouraged, both at home and in school. Banning cell phones is not educative, it’s punitive: it offers a swift “solution” that creates as many problems as it solves. I don’t have the perfect solution, but I know it involves individual teacher authority, safe landing spaces for phones in classrooms, and teachers teaching about appropriate usage.

Let’s find complex solutions to complex problems, and approach our students with grace, respect, and guidance. I truly hope my school never considers such a Medieval solution.