Cell Phones | Viewpoint

Should We Ban Cell Phones in the Classroom?

There are good arguments on both sides of the question. What's yours?

This article originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's November 2012 digital edition.

You'd think that readers of T.H.E. Journal would respond with a resounding "NO!" to the question of whether to ban cell phones in school, but you'd be surprised.

We've run many stories on the topic and we receive a fair amount of reader response in which educators (technology-advocating educators, I should add) are either outright against or have really strong reservations about allowing these devices in classrooms. Take a look at a few of the comments we received on a story back in March:

"As middle school administrator, there are continual issues that must be addressed regarding cell phones. Texting, sexting, cheating, and taking photos during class time, to name a few. Also ensuring students have a top of the line phone with app ability is not feasible, especially in these economic times. Please let's not do something more that increases the pressure on all stakeholders."

"I'm sorry, but even my seniors lack the maturity to use the cell phone as the tool it could be. It is merely a distraction because they are tempted to use it for everything except what I've asked them to use it for. (Same thing goes for teachers in a faculty meeting.)"

"Anything that distracts kids is contrary to good pedagogy. Why is there a belief that all technology is desirable? To paraphrase Jurassic Park: Just because we can, does not mean we should."

"What of the added complication of student phones and other electronic devices being stolen from them and/or students being bullied or attacked in order to do so?"

"Cell phones are one of the worst things you can have in school as they enable maladaptive behaviors. [Saying] that this problem is ethical is like the argument that "bullets don't kill people..." Speaking of bullets, yesterday we had a lockdown drill. A cell phone went off as we were hiding. [What's the] protocol for a gunman to not find students?"

I don't think these people are crackpots. They present legitimate concerns that anyone on the "pro" side of the argument must consider. The fact is, we do ban cell phones in many places--the theater, church, the dinner table (at least, my dinner table)--all for appropriate reasons. I'm not saying that these educators' concerns aren't addressable, but they cannot be clustered under some umbrella charge of Ludditism.

I bring all this up because I am moderating a panel at FETC 2013 on the pros and cons of using cell phones in classrooms. I've got my "pro" side all lined up--Elliot Soloway, perhaps the strongest advocate there is on using smartphones in learning. But I need an intelligent voice on the other side of the argument. Do you know someone who will be attending FETC (or who lives near Orlando) who could give Elliot a run for his money? If so, can you please e-mail me?

While you're at it, if you are "for" cell phones in classrooms, please share with me how you think we should address people's real concerns. If you are "against," what would need to happen to change your mind?

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].