Why Cell Phones should be Banned from the Classroom

Cell phones in the classroom.  Isn’t the breathtaking onslaught of technology something to behold?  For decades, public education retained a fairly unchanging profile.  Untoward classroom communication meant whispering or passing notes, making fun of teacher involved cafeteria jokes and unkind sketches, and cheating usually meant crib notes or a scrawled “cheat sheet” tucked up a sleeve. 

No more.

Today, school-aged children are bringing cell phones to school.  Perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem, were these phones just phones.  But they’re not—they’re cameras, video cameras, gaming systems, text messaging machines, and music players.  None of which belong in the classroom.

Instead of passing notes or whispering to each other, kids are texting under the desk.  Their calloused thumbs are so well-trained that no visual input is required.  The child can stare blankly toward the blackboard while texting away.  Glance down to read the (almost certainly) viciously misspelled response, then eyes back up, thumbs speeding across the number pad.  Texting isn’t limited to classmates—friends in other classes, other schools, or outside contacts are also popping up via text mid-class.  Educational?  Hardly. 

Tangled up in texting is taking pictures and videos with the cell phone camera and sending them to other students.  Sometimes, these pictures are a high-tech extension of bullying and are sent about for the purpose of humiliating or damaging a fellow student or school faculty member. Sometimes, the pictures are sexual in nature, hence the term “sexting.”  In all cases, the potential for a picture or video going “viral” at a school (or beyond) is high, and what started as a thoughtless, rude “joke” can become a wrenching disaster.  Again, nothing here that contributes to the learning process.

With the advent of Bluetooth technology, kids in the classroom can listen to music with no pesky, detectable wires flopping about.  Who knows if Johnny is really hearing what the teacher is saying?  Perhaps his eyes are following teacher but his brain is be-bopping to Fall Out Boy.   Is Johnny learning?  Nothing our public schools are trying to teach him, that’s for sure.

If anything could be more distracting than an ear full of good music, it’s video games.  Head down slightly, arm curled around to hide the phone, and our little student is a million miles away, slaying dragons or maintaining his or her second life in some online simulation game.  Neither activity is particularly useful out in the post-high school, need-to-be-literate world. 

The biggest concern of many educators is the way cell phones with text and picture capability open the flood doors for cheating.  Texting answers to other students, sending pictures of tests, questions, or other materials, or even saving answers to a file on the phone—all are increasingly common methods of cheating in the classroom these days.  Learning how to effectively cheat is not the lesson children should be learning in our schools.

Complicating matters is the number of parents who claim that their children must have cell phones on them at all times “just in case we need to reach them.”  It seems that, in case of emergency, the office can be called and a child can be summoned from class.  Others argue that children should be permitted to have the phones in the classroom, but that those phones should be turned off except in an emergency.  Considering our society still can’t inspire adults to turn off their phones during movies, concerts, meetings, meals, or while driving, it seems unlikely that kids will be able to resist the electronic temptation to turn on the phone and see what’s going on beyond the classroom.

Why should cell phones be banned in the classroom?   Simply put, every feature likely to be used by students will distract, disrupt, interfere with, and otherwise sully the educational process.  In an environment where student attention and participation is of the utmost importance, cell phones can only do harm.