Why cell­phones don’t be­long in class­rooms

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - LOR­RAINE SOMMERFELD www.lor­raineon­line.ca

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 hal­fassed way in­stead of one thing well.

Con­sider that cell­phone use in a car — es­pe­cially tex­ting — has 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 it. But the sci­ence goes deeper than the phys­i­cal as­pects of the ap­pli­ca­tion: your brain, en­gaged with a cell­phone, has ef­fec­tively shut out ev­ery­thing around it. When the thing it shuts 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. 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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