The other day, the NY Times reported that NYC schools chancellor Dennis Walcott said the current cell phone ban for students is “the policy that will [continue to] be.”
Okay, but more disheartening than that was Walcott’s assertion, in response to evidence that cell phones can be used as educational tools, that, “cellphones can also be not useful in class as well.”
The law currently on the books, as per Mayor Michael Bloomberg in this article, says this: “You’ve always had the right to take a phone to school and take a phone from school. You just don’t have the right to bring it into the school, and that’s not changing.”
How chilling are those words? Never mind how didactic and authoritarian they are. Think, instead, of the ramifications such a policy has for students.
1) Anytime a large group feels oppressed, tensions will bubble beneath the surface and, inevitably, boil over. The majority of cell phone users, I’d venture, are teens. Trying to control teens can be as fruitful as trying to hold water in a sieve. It’s hard, frustrating, and in many ways, pointless. When a teen has his cell phone removed from his person first thing in the morning, schools are setting up very unfavorable attitudes toward school and authority.
2) If kids don’t have the tools they need to text each other in class, they’ll just default to the more primitive practice of passing handwritten notes. Does this therefore mean that we should confiscate paper, notebooks, pens, and pencils, too?
3) I am reminded yet again of the analogy of teaching kids proper ways to use technology. Yes, technology can be dangerous, but so can crossing the street. So, do we tell our kids not to cross the street or do we teach them ways to do so safely? The argument that cell phones can be used for bad things and that the good is not enough to outweigh that is just foolish. Should we remove Bunsen burners from chemistry labs and scalpels from biology?
4) Cell phones are not just for texting anymore. Students can use them as digital cameras. They can be tools for responding to class polls/questions like an updated version of a response card. Creative teachers might encourage students to write stories through texts or Twitter. Of course, this would be totally anti-establishment and against the status quo, so it scares people, but regardless of the medium, writing is writing.
5) Then there’s the whole element of hypocrisy. If we are to prepare our kids for a future that demands proficiency in technology, why are we telling them they can’t use one of the technologies that they are most comfortable with? It doesn’t make sense.
Mobile learning has vast possibilities and in schools around the country it is catching on. Why is NYC, which boldly, brashly, and (usually) rightly calls itself “The Greatest City on Earth,” lagging so hopelessly behind?