In today’s world, the prohibition of cellphones in any setting is difficult if not impossible, and this includes schools. Today’s students (and pretty much everyone for that matter) are tied to their phones. In having a discussion with a class during the spring semester about how we are slaves to technology, at first I heard some naysayers, with a few admitting that description fit them perfectly. I asked these college students, if this was not the case, why was it that whenever I walked into the classroom almost all of them were looking at their phones, I had to tell them to put up their phones so we could start, and too often I had to tell someone during class to put a phone away. A few of them tried to give up the social media aspect of their phones cold turkey for a week. None of them made it. One student deleted all the social media apps from her phone so she wouldn’t be tempted, and wound up downloading all of them after a couple of days.
Disciplinary situations such as those mentioned in the question prompt are important and need to be addresses, but I see those instances as limited. A bigger issue is the disruptive nature of cellphones in class and out of class, and how they divert students’ attention. This diversion is not only when they are texting during class, but also when they have their heads down staring at a small screen while walking and run into someone else doing the same thing.
As opposed to schools banning phones, teachers can allow students to use them to research topics during class. I typically teach in a lab with desktop computers, and I will ask a single student to look up more information on some topic we are discussing and to share it with the class. The same thing could be done with a cellphone. I also will give students a list of general-knowledge or current-event questions and ask them to look up the answers in class (no Wikipedia allowed) and to write the answers in their own words. Again, no reason this can’t be done with a cellphone. It even eliminates the simple cut-and-paste temptation.
Although school administrations will try about anything they think they can get away with, I would question whether a ban on cellphones would withstand a court challenge. Disruptive use, yes. A ban, not so sure. This week’s Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the general search of criminal suspects’ cellphones has some education implications. A phone that is in a pocket or backpack — just like a set of keys or an iPod — is not disruptive. Using cellphones in class as part of the educational process is a way to show students that the devices can be used for more than texting and sharing cat videos.
And with that, I am going to roll right into the prompt. The question is “Do you think schools should limit or ban Internet usage?” No. Is that concise enough?
This falls into the category of banning certain quality books in the library because some person or some group doesn’t like it. In the case of the Internet, though, the consequences for education are worse. With a book, it is that single publication that students cannot check out of the library. With Internet filters, it is string of words that can lead to students missing a lot of proper, acceptable, and completely inoffensive content. The nature of the Internet is to be broad, so restrictions and filters simply capture too much. Also, as this article points out, students can use their cellphones — which I am allowing in my school — at home or other places. An advantage that schools have is that they should be in better position to monitor Internet usage and to provide instruction on why the use of certain words or images are acceptable in one context, but not in another.
Sure this is instruction that should be taking place at home, but schools are in a position to focus on the educational angle of the material. Schools need to relay that message to the students and to the parents. It is likely that some parents will object (some object to Huckleberry Finn). This is one reason it is important to have a clear, comprehensible policy that can be shared with and explained to parents. If that is not sufficient, other options are to have one-on-one monitoring of the student during Internet use or require that student — with parent permission —to do the work at home.
Both of these issues — cellphones and Internet filters — made me think of the sentence in the Supreme Court’s ruling on a free-speech case: “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates.” Schools often try to take away students’ rights just because it is convenient for the schools. Instead, schools need to be addressing these issues in ways that enhance education.