Should Cell Phones Be Allowed in School?

The following article has been posted on my publisher’s (Eye on Education) website,

As the percentage of students in high school, middle school, and even elementary school who own cell phones continues to grow, the debate over whether they should be allowed to use them in school becomes more heated.

The Pros

The chief argument in favor of allowing cell phones at school is safety. Students can contact their parents or another authority figure in case of an emergency, and vice versa. Furthermore, parents can reach their children at any time and learn their whereabouts. Cell phones provide an extra measure of security, and they’re convenient.

And students will use them anyway. According to MSNBC, CommonSense Media conducted a poll that revealed that 63 percent of students still use cell phones at schools with cell phone bans.

In his blog post “I lost something very important to me” on “Weblogg-ed,” a Web site dedicated to technological resources in the classroom, Will Richardson wondered about the messages cell phone bans send. He wrote, “What does [confiscating cell phones] teach those kids? First, it teaches them that they don’t deserve to be empowered with technology the same way adults are. Second, that the tools that adults use all the time in their everyday lives to communicate are not relevant to their own communication needs.”

The Cons

But they’re distracting. Even if their phones are on silent, students can text and go online during class. Educators opposed to allowing cell phones in schools also cite cyber-bullying, the use of phones and other technology to harass peers, as a reason to leave them at home.

Cell phones can also facilitate cheating. CommonSense Media found that two-thirds of students surveyed claimed that their classmates used cell phones to cheat on coursework, while one-third said they themselves had done so. Armed with high-tech phones, students can browse the Internet and ask their friends for answers to test questions, or store information to give their friends later on.

“When students have cell phones in their possession during school hours, many disciplinary problems stem from [cell phone] abuse,” Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, wrote in his article, “Student Cell Phones Should Be Prohibited in K-12 Schools.” (This article is available for download on the Kentucky Center for School Safety website.)

He adds, “The current barrage of illegal and immoral acts committed daily (on cell phones by students during the school day) far outweigh the parent’s right to talk (and in some cases, interfere) with their children during a school emergency.”

For me, the real question is how do schools learn how to incorporate the use of technology instead of banning it?