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Classrooms are no place for cell phones

Over the last week we’ve heard several school teachers describe the horrifying impact of cell phones on students in the classroom. These teachers used unsettling phrases like “epidemic” as they describe a drastic change they’ve seen with their students over the last few years. They trace the change back almost entirely to our kids’ cell phone, social media and technology use. These teachers we know, and others around the country, are literally begging parents to help them get a grip on a scourge that is destroying our kids’ minds and undermining their education. 

One teacher gave an alarming example – she told us creative writing was once the easy, fun lesson in class but that students these days have a hard time coming up with original ideas. During one creative writing assignment half the class couldn’t think of anything to write about.

“It’s like they don’t know how to imagine anymore,” she said. This teacher went on to describe the mood in the classroom when she asks kids to put their phones away. She said they get fidgety, “like drug addicts.” 

Other teachers talked about how much phones distract students in class (One teacher said she could “walk in juggling hamsters with her hair on fire” and students wouldn’t bat an eye), how they make kids mentally and physically lazy, how students don’t participate in events at the same levels they once were, and how phones and social media ramp up drama and cyberbullying in school. 

The argument that smart phones are a “tool for learning” is a dangerous one. In fact, cell phone use in school does the exact opposite - it puts students’ learning at risk and exposes them to more cyberbullying. Kids aren’t using their phones to find out which country sank the Lusitania – they’re Googling memes, taking selfies and sending each other photos.

It might surprise people that Silicon Valley parents  in the tech industry are exceedingly cautious about their kids’ use of phones/screens. Many ban them completely. In a New York Times article “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley,” a former Facebook executive assistant said, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

The article goes on to quote former Wired editor describing screens for kids as, “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine,” being “closer to crack cocaine.” 

Other tech giants like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs also spoke publicly about severely limiting or prohibiting their kids’ screen and phone times – and study after study backs up their decisions. A 2016 London School of Economics study “found that schools which ban the use of phones experienced a substantial improvement in student test scores,” according to a Huffington Post article. 

Incidentally, many of these Silicon Valley parents - and parents of kids in the world’s top performing schools – keep technology out of the classroom all together, or strictly limit it.  

France recently banned cell phones in schools through eighth grade to boost concentration and reduce cyberbullying. NPR visited one school to see the results – the principal reported a radical “night and day” change. He said kids are friendlier, more polite, and interact more, and that administrators and students don’t have to deal with ramifications of harmful pictures circulating on social networks. 

We’ve heard there are moves to integrate more Chromebooks and move away from phones in class in some grade levels, but we think the local school system should ban cell phones from all classrooms and require they be kept in lockers during school hours. The system’s current policy that gives teachers the choice of whether or not kids use phones is, on the surface, reasonable – but it puts educators in the tough position of beating back the constant pressure from students.  

We can prepare our kids for the digital age without doing collateral damage to their minds. Parents and administrators should heed teachers’ cries for help and help keep phones out of class and  limit them outside class. Our kids and their futures – our collective futures - are at stake.