Let’s talk about phones and education, kay?
I am having a rough year when it comes to student cell phone use. I have a clear policy (although my school and district do not, which concerns me…). I contact parents, and I have designated spots where phones should be kept during class time. But today’s teenagers don’t feel the way about phones that I do.
When I was in school, any student cell phone that was visible during the school day was confiscated by the dean. I was blessed with a phone for my 16th birthday; it was a flip phone with only calling capabilities and maybe a few basic, tetris-like games. One time the dean took it away while I was calling my dad for a ride home from the front entrance of the school. I remember feeling like this was unfair because it was snowing and my bus was very late, but I didn’t fight it. My phone was a privilege, not a right. I just asked around until I found a friend with a car who could drive me, and picked up my phone from the office 24 hours later, as policy dictated.
Phones are infinitely more capable now, and infinitely more present in our lives. My students not only have the top-of-the-line best phones on the market; they’ve had them since they were 8. My students feel more connected to their phones than they do to almost anything else in their lives. Most of the teenagers I work with don’t just see phones as tools for communication and organization; they see their phones as an extension of their being. So sometimes when I ask them to put their device away or- GOD FORBID!- place it in a classroom phone caddy, they have an outrageously emotional reaction. I’m talking tears, whining, and/or straight-up defiance.
My students nearly always fire back at my requests for them to keep their brains on the lesson and their phones out of sight with “BUT I NEED IT!” or “BUT MY MOM IS TEXTING!” I’ve found that teenagers are able to justify complete and perpetual connectedness; they sneak peeks at their screens while I’m typing or writing on the board, or bring it with them on their bathroom breaks so they can send a series of snapchats along the way. They feel that this level of constant contact is completely normal.
But we’re not doing kids a favor, giving them all the technology they want whenever they want. I’m finding that my students struggle with so many basic social and academic skills that I don’t think my generation struggled with. For example, when given an opinion-based essay assignment, my students always google it first to find sample answers, rather than actually formulating answers on their own. They struggle to hold good class discussion, because they’re not well-practiced in the skill of thinking deeply. They’ve got an infinite social network in their pocket at all times; why would they make decisions on their own?
And all this makes me so, so sad. The fact that every block that I teach is a battle between books and snapchat is sad. And the fact that the cafeteria is full of silent kids watching Netflix with their headphones in rather than like, talking to each other is sad. The fact that students are constantly crossing plagiarism lines because they’re so used to having all of the internet at their fingertips that they’ve never really developed an understanding of intellectual property is sad. And the fact that my students all want to be YouTubers rather than like, doctors or writers or engineers or designers is sad.
I’ve heard so, so many fairy tales of how teachers have figured out ways to use phones and technology to better their teaching practice, and that’s awesome for them. But I am kind of, sort of nearing my wits end about how to help my student’s break their addiction to their phones before it breaks them. I want to educate the next generation of innovators and advocates. Not the next generation of insta-famous and makeup vloggers (as much as I enjoy watching a good tutorial…)
So what I’m saying is, I recognize that there is a place for technology in education. However, there’s also a point to education. And that’s to educate. Sadly, the technology that’s most appealing to young people also takes away their opportunity to think for themselves.
*End teacher rant*