If phones are banned in your classroom, school, or district, I need to tell you something. Lean in close and take a deep breath. This is going to be hard to hear. Here goes...ahem...You are losing.
Now take it easy! Take it easy. Get your hand off the "back" button and hear me for a moment. I didn't say you're a loser. I simply stated an undeniable fact. The fact is that you are losing. "Losing what?" you might ask.
The Battle & The War
The Battle: Management and Control
Let's call a spade a spade. The movement to ban cell phones in classrooms is almost entirely about managing students and controlling their behaviors. We fear the lack of control we have over these pocket and purse protagonists. As such, we do what we often do in the face of potential threats to our classroom dominance. We make a rule! Yes I said "we". I said it because I am you. I am a teacher who at one time banned phones in my room. Gasp!
My question for those of you who, like me, banned the use of cell phones in the classroom is this; How's it going? I think if you're honest with yourselves you are willing to admit what I ultimately did. It's not going well. Kids still bring them. They still cause the occasional disruption. And our subsequent consequences for violating these bans do little to nothing to stem the tide of tech that flows into our schools day after day.
What's worse? I came to the realization that a cell phone ban entrapped even my most well behaved students into breaking the rules. They weren't going to leave them at home. Hell, neither was I! I would argue most of you don't leave yours at home either. Why not? Because phones have become part of the social fabric. They connect us with our families, they keep us informed, they offer us comfort as a lifeline in the face of emergency. For better or for worse, this is our reality, and it's the same reality for our students. Your attempt to control and manipulate this reality will yield frustration and failure, and likely drive a wedge between you and your students despite your desire for the ban to draw them nearer to you.
The War: Nurture the Development of 21st Century Citizens
Saying you want your school to prepare kids for the future while banning cell phones is like saying you want to fight lung cancer while smoking a cigarette. The two are fundamentally incompatible. Our kids will continue to live and work in a society where cell phones are omnipresent. We need to teach them how to use these devices to move beyond social connectivity and transition to professional responsibility, and communal courtesy. We can only do that in learning environments where devices are not only allowed, but welcomed and utilized with purpose. Access to nearly all of the knowledge of the human experience is in your pocket right now. Use it. Don't ban it.
With that said, how many times have you been in a social setting (you know, a real live one, with other real live people) and seen a group of kids sitting together while enthralled independently with their phones? It's a common sight, and as adults we frequently comment on the upsetting nature of these interactions, or lack thereof. But dig deeper. Why is this happening? It's because these kids do not have established norms, customs, or considerations relative to appropriate or respectful tech use in public settings. Why not? Because they've never lived in a world where they've had to develop them. We remember what it was like pre-technology. As such, we lean on those memories for what we consider to be acceptable interactions. Students possess no such memories. As such, they need to be taught what purposeful engagement with tech looks like, sounds like, and feels like in a variety of settings. Only then will they be able to embody the vision of the prepared, polite, and productive citizens we endeavor to create in our classrooms.
Look...cell phones can be dangerous distractions in schools. I'll concede that. The same can be said for scissors. But we don't ban scissors in school. We teach kids how to use them responsibly. So teach kids not to run with scissors, or cell phones for that matter. Cultivate healthy and productive behaviors that bring students to an understanding of how we should use our phones in ways that are safe, useful, and sensible. Banning them won't bring us closer to winning the battle or the war, it will only push victory, both academic and social, further toward the horizon.