However, none of these supposed advantages can overcome one
very basic disadvantage: Cell
phones distract students from schoolwork and class activities. Half of teens
send 50 or more text messages a day. According to the Pew study, "Older teen
girls ages 14-17... average 100 messages a day." It's naïve to imagine that students
armed with cell phones won't be quietly typing away under their desks,
sending messages or surfing the Internet. And this activity is much harder to
regulate than traditional note-passing.
So what's the solution? Do teachers simply need to crack
down harder, to impose harsher penalties against extracurricular texting and
Internet surfing? Or are the cell phones themselves a symptom of a larger
An observer walking into an American school might notice the
noise -- not only the talking and shouts among students during their hourly
migrations between classrooms, but in the classrooms as well. Silence in class
is an all-too-rare phenomenon. If the teacher isn't talking or an instructional
video isn't playing, there's likely to be the incessant talking of students
among themselves. All in all, there is lots of Sturm and Drang, not enough contemplative thinking and learning.
There may not be one right way of educating. The Waldorf School philosophy of pen
and paper, blackboards and chalk, can
work fine for some students. But
computers in the classroom can also work. What's clear either way is that students must be taught to love learning
-- to embrace the process of finding
answers. In a recent New York
Times article titled "A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute," Paul
Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman
University was quoted as saying, "Teaching is a human experience. Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numacy, and critical
Many high school students have grown unaccustomed to reading anything
longer than a 140-character tweet. And at a time when calculators are available
on every cell phone, they've grown more dependent than ever on letting machines
solve even the simplest of problems. What students lose in such a dependency is an
ability to respond quickly on their feet -- in a boardroom presentation, for
example -- as well as a keen common sense about math and science. There's no thinking going on.
So, how should schools cope with the short attention spans
and the need for entertainment among many students? The solution is cultural: Teachers, parents, and administrators need to agree that
there is no substitute for sustained cognitive thinking, inductive and
deductive reasoning, or detailed analysis and problem solving.
need more than just discipline in the classroom. They also need to be inspired to learn about the wonders of life,
of humanity, of nature, of our planet, of the cosmos. School policies outlawing
cell phones are clearly not enough -- the effective teacher must connect with his or her students in
order to hold their attention. There must be a magnetism, a bond between them, a sparking of a
brotherhood in the battle for knowledge -- a quest to figure things out, to
understand, and to marvel and rejoice in that insight.
All of this may seem easier said than done, and the most
idealistic teachers often find themselves running up against unimaginative
curricula and restrictive policies. But the incessant cell phone use going on
in our classrooms must serve as a challenge, forcing us to remember what
education is really about. The teacher's goal must be to instill an insatiable
desire to learn. Because both inside
and outside the classroom, there's so much to do and so little time.