Hate the Player, Not the Game

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For new technologies to be successfully integrated intoschools, we must first fix the users, not the tools.

Jeff WeinstockI'VE NEVER BEEN QUITE ABLE to get behind the argument that guns don'tkill people, people kill people. It seems to me that guns do the climacticwork. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the premise: Blame the user, not theinstrument. Or in today's parlance, hate the player, not the game.

Certainly that's true with technology.

My wife attends a community college, and she returns after virtually each class with stories of mind-blowing impudence: students thumping away at online games on their laptops; text messages arriving by way of a profane Eminem lyric; iPods dialed up loud enough for all the class to hear. The whole gamut of 21st-century technologies gets put to ill use, thwarting, instead of advancing, teaching and learning.

Sometimes I come home with a story of my own. There was the one time I was sitting with other parents in my child's classroom on Back to School Night as the teacher addressed us, when a cell phone went off inside a father's jacket pocket. I was all set to shoot the guy a blistering evil eye when he did something even crazier: He took the call! He didn't hustle outside, apologize on the way out and then again on the way back in, or ask sheepishly who raised him. He simply flipped open the phone and began talking. Minutes later, the cell phone jingled again, and-if I'm lyin' I'm dyin'-he took that call, too.

Well. That's a thing, isn't it? I don't know about a teachable moment, but it was no doubt a learnable one: Cell phones don't disrupt classrooms, people disrupt classrooms.

It's something to consider in the debate now being waged within K-12 administrations on whether cell phones and their Web 2.0 kin-social networking, chatting, blogging-have a place in education. Some schools are choosing to strip devices of some of their functionality in order to make them compatible with the classroom environment. That's an unfortunate step to have to take, and one I suspect won't work. It's not the technology that needs to be domesticated- it's the user. A more imperative and constructive step would be to put students through a semester on common courtesy. Otherwise, cell phones and the like won't be any more welcome in the classroom than chewing gum.

Here's a top-of-the-head solution. I'm thinking about those WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets that are supposed to give their wearers pause before they act, to help them choose the right course. Perhaps in this day and age, we need to confront ourselves with a different query: WWSJD. What Would Steve Jobs Do?

I don't know the man, but if he's any kind of mensch, when the teacher has the floor, he'd have his head up, face forward-and iPhone off.

-Jeff Weinstock, Executive Editor

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.

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