POLL: France Outlaws Cell Phones in Schools – Should We?

Cell phone and classroom

Macron’s promise to stop classroom distractions becomes law

During the presidential campaign, candidate Emmanuel Macron promised to ban mobile phones from elementary and junior high school classrooms to promote physical activity, reduce bullying, and remove distractions. Though controversial, the law passed in July and has gone into effect with the start of the new school year.

Good idea or should we take a pass in the U.S.?

Houston area schools generally have a policy prohibiting use of cell phones during classroom hours in classrooms, and leave enforcement and adaptations to a teacher’s discretion. This example from the Spring Branch ISD Student Handbook is typical of policy:

“Possession of Personal Telecommunications and Electronic Devices

A student in grades PreK-12 may use a telecommunications/electronic device to the extent authorized by a classroom teacher or administrator for instructional purposes. Telecommunications/electronic devices shall not be used to take pictures or video at any time during the school day or on school grounds, unless authorized by the classroom teacher for instructional purposes.

A student in grades PreK-5 may use a personal telecommunications/electronic device on school grounds during non-instruction time and athletic events for other school-related activities/special events to the extent authorized by the campus administration. A student in grades 6-12 may use a personal telecommunications/electronic device on school grounds during non-instructional times, athletic events, or other school-related activities/special events.”

The Fort Bend ISD Student Handbook highlights the benefits of phones in the class.

“The District believes technology is a powerful tool that enhances learning and enables students to access a vast amount of academic resources. The District’s goal is to increase student access to digital tools and facilitate immediate access to technology-based information. Students are encouraged to bring their own device for enhanced learning opportunities. Students will be provided access to a filtered, wireless network through which students will be able to connect mobile devices to a designated network. Students using mobile devices must follow the guidelines stated in this document while using the Fort Bend ISD networks on school property, or attending any campus-sponsored activity.”

Bucking the trend, at The Tenney School on South Gessner in West Houston, phones were outlawed last year. They published this in their newsletter:

What Happens When You Separate Students from Their Cell Phones

Things have changed a lot at our school. A few weeks ago we started collecting our student cell phones at the start of each day. Cell phones have become progressively more distracting to our students over the years, and we thought we would see what life was like in a school without

them. Admittedly, we have always had rules and policies limiting student cell phone use. Unfortunately, the dramatic growth in cell phone use by our students has made it increasingly difficult to enforce these policies. Allowing a teenager to carry, but not use, his/her cell phone is like asking a dog not to eat the steak you leave on the floor. You can never turn your back, and it would require constant vigilance and attention. So we separated the cell phone from the student, and observed some interesting changes:

The Lunch Room was Much Louder – The lunchroom was not quiet before, but now it is almost unpleasantly loud. Access to devices really limits the number of students engaged in conversation. As more students start talking, they each needed to talk louder-and-louder to be heard. Following increased interaction, some students were even observed making friendship bracelets.

Teachers Noted Increased Engagement – This was an interesting observation. Some reports have stated that “cell phone addiction” leads to decreased brain connectivity. Students today really live in two worlds: the physical world and the digital world. Before collecting cell phones, our student were capable of stealing time at school to participate in their digital world. As student continues to think through what’s happening in their digital world, it takes away from the energy they have to think and engage in the physical world.

More Student Smiles – As students became more engaged in their physical world, they interacted more with peers. Similar to the lunchroom, the hallways became more of a place for interaction. They may have been talking about how much they hated being apart from their cell phone, but at least they were talking to each other. There was also less hallway collisions as students were no longer looking down at their phone.

Parents Were Quite Happy – We received mostly positive and supportive comments from our parents. School is not the only place teens overuse cell phones. An increasing number of organization are calling our modern cell phone habits an addiction. Our students have access to landline phones if they need to get in touch with someone, and most parents realize cell phone use has become a problem for their children.

Students Were Not Very Happy – This was one negative side effect of separating students from cell phones. While admitting they had crossed the line, our student believed they could keep their phone and follow the school rules. We had several student meetings and petitions, and came up with a few compromises.

While not without some issues, we believe our restriction of cell phone access has been a positive change for our students and school. Sadly for our students, this is likely to be a change we keep next year.

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