Like most teachers who I know, I have strong opinions about cell phones in school – I’m agin em.
But, I support Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina, so why should I intrude into New York City’s cell phone debate? Edu-politics is the art of the possible and cell phones aren’t going away. At some point we will have to find a way to incorporate those hand-held computers into the learning process. So, I had decided to bite my tongue and hope for the best.
Then, I stumbled across TechCrunch and Joe Mathewson’s prediction for 2015, “Teachers will embrace student’s Smartphone addiction.” Such candor cannot be allowed to go to waste. Regardless of where we come down on cell phones in school, we should face the fact that we are welcoming a dominating compulsion into our classrooms.
NY Chalkbeat’s Brian Charles, in Educators Remain Cautious as City Prepares to Lift Cell Phone Ban, quotes a principal who asks, “How do we enforce the use of cell phones in class, if we have 500-plus kids with cell phones who are taking calls or text during class time?” The principal then makes the point that too few non-educators fully understand, “We have laid a whole new burden on teachers who have to make sure children get the instruction they need.”
I must emphasize that NYC is not only opening the door to an incredibly disruptive device. It is inviting teenagers to bring patterns of behavior, that often could be described as addictions, into classrooms. When teachers, alone, cannot manage the cell phone challenge, they are likely to be scapegoated.
I would never bet against technology. The reason why digital technologies have failed to improve teaching and learning, I believe, is that we have not laid the foundation for the new types of learning. We must all take responsibility for helping students develop a learning culture and the self-control necessary to successfully engage in blended learning. New York City is dumping a massive and complex challenge on teachers and principals, while it is not likely to accept any responsibility for the epidemic of distraction and disorder that probably will result.
On the other hand, school improvement is a team effort. I'm not going to second guess teammates like de Blasio and Farina and I will hope for the best. -JT (@drjohnthompson)