Why cellphones don’t belong in classrooms

A senior public school in Toronto has banned the use of cellphones in the classroom.

They all should.

This topic has been hot for years, but debate regarding which outside influences should be permitted inside a classroom has been around forever.

Back in the day, I wasn’t allowed to have food or drink or a calculator with me; I also had teachers who forbade knapsacks, no doubt because I might be hiding food or drink or a calculator in one. Schools draft policies delineating what students can wear because it only takes one girl showing the bottom of her butt, or one boy showing the top of his, for educators to say “enough.”

What do all of these things have in common? They’re distractions. Some distractions are difficult to control, like the raging teen hormones that make many teachers’ jobs a nightmare at times. Some are easy to control, like blocking out the window in the door so kids aren’t glancing at who is in the hallway outside.

But cellphones are the perfect storm of distraction, their immediacy trumping all else, including reason. I don’t blame teachers for not wanting to compete with them.

The argument rages because it seems counterproductive to remove technology from a learning environment when it should be seen as a tool, not a traitor. The problem isn’t that cellphones and tablets aren’t amazing; it’s that they’ve reduced us all to having the attention span of a 6-year-old in an arcade. Good multi-tasking is not a real thing, nor is it something to brag about. It just means you are doing, through either choice or necessity, several things in a half-assed way instead of one thing well.

Consider that cellphone use in a car — especially texting — has now surpassed intoxication as the most deadly behaviour taking place behind the wheel. I’ve done both (controlled circumstances, closed course) and can vouch for that. Drunks are at least trying to focus on the road, whereas texters aren’t even looking at the road. But the science goes deeper than even the physical aspects of the application. Your brain, while engaged with a cellphone, has effectively shut out everything around it. When the thing it is shutting out is a classroom, we have a problem.

I’ve heard arguments from parents and kids alike. Parents can be the worst transgressors of all. I know parents who will text their kids, knowing they’re in class.

Seriously? What is wrong with you? If Ari texts me, the first thing I ask is where he is. Not to make you roll your eyes, but folks, if you’re not part of the solution, you really are part of the problem. You have to backstop your school by insisting your child is respectful to the teacher and the other students. That means learning something. That means not cheating others of learning something.

When there is some horrific shooting or lockdown on the news, there are always the requisite anecdotes of students using their phones to establish contact to relieved parents outside. I get it. But you will never get good legislation from emotional circumstances.

Cellphone use isn’t just about people playing with toys; there is a very real physical addiction to the devices, and an incoming text sets off dopamine receptors in your brain just like a slot machine paying out or a drug addict getting a fix.

To the kids who think they’re perhaps being singled out: you’re not. Very few adults are able to disconnect from their phones. Maybe by instituting curbs in your behaviour, we can start to get a grip on our own.

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3 responses to Why cellphones don’t belong in classrooms

  1. Pat says:

    When I retired in 2005, the kids were just beginning to bring phones to school. Of course, now they are more sophisticated and kids are “filming” in classrooms. There are some privacy issues and, as you say, some attention issues. The average teenager used to have an attention span of 8-10 minutes. I’d hazard a guess it’s less now? Good article!

  2. Sandy says:

    We have had this discussion more than once at our dinner table.
    One time a friend of my sons’ was quite put out that the teacher had taken him phone away from him during class. He didn’t get any support here and actually got quite the opposite.
    He hasn’t cared to come back since. I guess he didn’t appreciate the “Who do you think you are? You are there to learn and listen to the teacher and your phone and social life don’t belong in the classroom. Leave it in your locker and that will solve all the problems.”

  3. Meena Bhandari says:

    Cell phones shouldn’t be allowed in classes at all. Children are going to school for education and not for entertainment.

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