July 20, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 20, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Opposition to Cell Phones in Class: Is It a Good Idea?

The issue of cell phones has generated much discussion of late. Most of the arguments (including by this writer) have been opposed to cell phones in school for many valid reasons. Cyberbullying, Googling test answers, taking a picture of a quiz and sending it to friends who have the same class later in the day, paying more attention to Instagram notifications than navi class and an overreliance on technology are but a few of the reasons given. Smartphones have changed the way we communicate, and they can be a major headache for teachers and administrators.

Cell phones are a distraction to focus and concentration. Texting, checking social media and playing games have no place in a school environment. Parents should not be interrupting students during class time for anything less than a dire emergency, and such situations are, hopefully, a rare occurrence in the school as a whole, so they should be dealt with through the office. Teachers have no reason to have cell phones out during class time when they should be giving full attention to their students and to class activities.

In response, many schools, including our day schools, have restricted or banned student use of cell phones in school. Administrators are concerned that by allowing students to spend so much time on their phones, they are feeding an addiction and hampering students’ development of face-to-face communication skills. Ontario province and France have enacted significant restrictions on student cell phone use in schools. California law allows school districts or charter schools to limit or prohibit the use of smartphones during school hours. Arizona unsuccessfully called for a public policy that portable electronic devices should not be used in classrooms. Maine tried to require the department of education to adopt rules restricting the use of cell phones by students. Utah and Maryland also tried. All these efforts failed.

The French ban cell phones for students under 15 because of the health hazards of excessive exposure to electromagnetic radiation coming from WiFi. Overexposure to EMR harms normal brain development among young children and prevents cells from detoxifying, which is especially bad when a child is sick. In this country, most executives of social media companies also prohibit their young children from using cell phones and getting too much screen time. What do they know that the average teacher or school administrator does not? This is more than a classroom management problem; it’s a health and child development issue.

Children should learn to work without the aid of a device. Allowing them time without the phone is a real opportunity for learning and learning self-discipline. It’s good for a child to learn to write notes, make graphs and read without the aid of tech. Studies all suggest more learning, more retention and better literacy skills when work/reading is done organically, without tech. This is so important for the development of our children. Tech use in class is often a crutch. Yes, it’s a great tool for teachers to have (and use sparingly). Our kids get enough screen time. If there is an emergency, teachers and administrators have phones. MIT professor and author Sherry Turkle writes, “Even the mere presence of a phone near a child is a distraction and can affect outcomes. Kids will not put the phone down by themselves, and are not mature and developed enough to know the benefits and wonders of life beyond the screen.”

However, despite all of the reasons just cited, current research appearing in a number of professional journals (e.g., ThoughtCo, Pew Research Center, Education Week, American University School of Education, Digital Education) seems to indicate that not everyone thinks the new restrictions are a step in the right direction. Enforcement can be difficult, and schools are careful about taking on liability for holding a student’s confiscated phone. On the positive side, many teachers like using some cell phone-based applications in class, such as online microscopes and research applications. Phones can be a great teaching tool. Teachers use cell phone applications like Kahoot, or they send their students on scavenger hunts that also rely on cell phone technology. Cell phones can be utilized to create student videos, and teachers can integrate special apps for understanding concepts or investigating questions. Many schools focus on teaching students to use their devices responsibly.

Restricting cell phone use is a lot easier said than done. Parents are concerned about school safety. How can parents get in touch with their children during a school lockdown or a dangerous weather event or other emergency? Despite the fact that nowhere in any safety protocol does it state, “Get on your cell phone and notify a family member,” some parents want to be able to reach their children at any time—even if it means texting them in class.

A total ban may not be realistic. For some students, the anxiety of not having their phone with them can cause more harm than good. Schools should have a plan, not a ban. There is a need to have clear guidelines and guidance for both students and parents about cell phones. If a class is using the phone for learning, then the whole class has to agree that they are not going to be Snapchatting in the middle of a lesson on Biblical archaeology. Teachers as well need to make sure they model those behaviors, which means not checking their own text messages or emails during class.

(On the subject of teacher use of cell phones, it is quite disturbing to observe teachers in many of our schools on their cell phones while they are supposed to be supervising students at both indoor and outdoor recess.)

A total ban misses an opportunity to teach students how to use the devices responsibly and in moderation. Schools can also instill social-media lessons, including showing students how to be careful about what they tweet out or share on social media. Hiding from real learning through the creation of banning policies is not confronting the issue.

A school’s job is to prepare students for the future, and to provide a foundation for students in how to operate in today’s world. Research indicates that the goal of a strong educational environment must include student readiness with technology. Today’s educational environment must support a vigorous technology plan, as technology leads the way towards every vocational opportunity.

The discussions we should be having are—Do we have internet in every room? Do all students have a way to connect and is it unified? Is the bandwidth great enough to support all students being online? Are our schools embracing a STEM or STEAM focus? Do our teachers have the proper training and are our PD opportunities concurrent with classroom needs? Is the curriculum focused on the digital delivery to keep students up to date with the latest courses? Do we have classes in coding, cyber security and robotics offered? Do we offer the options in VR and AI and have access to that curriculum in the classroom? This is the proper focus for preparing our students for the future.

These findings are in opposition to my own previously held views and are presented to stimulate a conversation. Yes, we will need to look at digital citizenship and proper use of technology, but to ban it is asking our students to be unprepared for their futures. Needless to say our educators themselves need to be brought up to speed if they still remember rotary dial phones. The gateway to the future for all students comes through digital educational opportunities. It is no longer a question of should we—we must!

Dr. Wallace Greene has had a distinguished career in Jewish education as a teacher, principal and administrator.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles