Response: Rashawna Syndor

Should Phones Be Banned in Schools? Learn more about the article and prompt.

Rashawna is a Teacher and Curriculum Developer.

If you can’t beat em’, join em’!, When In Rome….you get the picture.

If I am being honest, cell phones in the classroom have become the bane of many teachers’ existence. If they could be sucked into the cloud with the data, documents, and messages they transmit, some would breathe a sigh of relief.  They have become a distraction and a disciplinary issue some avoid addressing. While the easiest solution is restriction, we have to consider the structures in place to support teachers when the distraction and resistance to it, and the instruction taking place.  When there are supported structures in place, cell phones are manageable.  A quick reminder to turn them off or place them on silent is quite effective.  Where teachers meet resistance, there must be school-wide support in the event there is a lack of cooperation.  

As an educator, I understand how much is on a teacher’s plate, and that not every lesson will capture every kid, every day.  That sometimes the notion of engagement conjures images of constant movement and games and fun, fun, fun that we don’t always have the time or energy to create.  However, with the understanding that we need to capture and keep their attention, sometimes it simply comes down to the content we are delivering.  Do they see themselves in what’s being taught? How are they represented? Are you making relevant connections to their current experiences?  If not, the cell phone will, and they will choose it every time.  The attempt to completely eliminate for most teens (and if we’re honest adults) would be akin to losing a limb although there were alternative treatment options.

Adults who wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of the author,  consider all the professional development sessions or meetings you’ve attended where you’re being talked ‘at’ about material that you either already know or couldn’t care less about.  Consider the lack of engaging activities that keeps your mind busy.  Consider the lack of collaboration with your peers in the room around content and concepts that you find important.  Like you, in a situation where teens feel they have no choice but to be there, they just want to be interested, and what is contained in their phones for them, is just that.  While the place adults and teens would rather be may differ, the need for an escape is mutual and the destination is often no more or less harmful.

Humans often avoid what they don’t like or understand. Whatever that ‘thing’ is, is often treated as inconsequential and easier to ignore than to confront or deal with it. CRT, anyone? Its supremely disappointing when adults tug at heart strings and laser focus on the tragic notion of suicide around this issue.  While it absolutely should not be ignored and should rightfully be fixed at the top of the list of considerations when discussing the negative aspects of cell phones and social media engagement, it is irresponsible to keep it there when we consider the actual number one killer of our babies. Unfortunately, we can’t get half the country to support gun legislation, which kills more children than social media. Homicide According to Pew, “In the U.S., some groups of children and teens are far more likely than others to die by gunfire. Boys, for example, accounted for 83% of all gun deaths among children and teens in 2021. Girls accounted for 17%.” Yet here we stand, with more than 300 mass shootings this year alone and some fighting tooth and nail to hold on to an antiquated, misunderstood aspect of a 400-year-old document that was written to meet the needs of the time, our children be damned. We know this about guns and half of the country has elected adults that have introduced more legislation to dismantle the few protections we do have, rather than to strengthen them to protect the same children we believe are being overly corrupted by social media.

Despite all relevant evidence, some adults would rather completely restrict a communication medium that even the author admits, has its benefits, which is what should be consistently explored rather than the opposite. With time, comes evolution, and its closely related cousins experience and innovation. In our quest to create a better world, one with a semblance of efficiency, ease and access, evolution has bred magnificent innovation for those with minds open enough to embrace it. The internet, wi-fi and technology of the like, have opened doors and windows into worlds previously unexplored and out of reach for many.  The ability to connect with people and places around the world in an instant, to seek and share information has amplified the stories of so many allowing for the spread of commonality and empathy.  Every innovator for every marvel has one thing in common, an idea and education.  Formal or informal, using positive or negative factors to motivate them – their education and comprehension of an issue and how it Is impacting society, moved them to ponder and create.  Our ability to understand and critically analyze what we consume should be taught explicitly and embedded into our content as an absolute necessity. It’s the world we live in, and for media literacy not to be substantially included is neglectful and irresponsible.  Our teens, and most adults, need to be educated on how to responsibly use the innovative features of the technology we engage with. As we evolve, we must learn and adapt.  Pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t make It disappear, it breeds and spreads ignorance.

It’s not ironic that this will ultimately be published in the newsletter of an organization that champions for media literacy education. We absolutely fumbled the opportunity to reinvent our school systems and its curriculum when we became so heavily reliant on technology when creating virtual education experiences during the pandemic.  This time, while full of unknowns, was quite promising. We learned and used a myriad of apps and web-based programs to instruct and enrich our lessons and some  of our kids used their phones to participate and complete their assignments.   Upon our return, while adults were able to ease back into routines because in some instances it was easier, our return to the classroom did not mean an automatic adjustment for the children that showed up. The expectation that they disconnect from the apparatus that kept them connected to the outside world and each other for nearly two years was a set-up for failure.  I’m not at all saying that there shouldn’t be parameters around cell phone usage specifically during class time, but the notion of completely removing them while not considering the beneficial aspects and the inclusion of education is unrealistic and dated.

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of these responses are to highlight our members and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.