We here at The LAMP have made no secret of our support for lifting the cell phone ban in New York City public schools, so we’re thrilled with the Department of Education’s announcement this afternoon that the time has finally come. Here are a few of the reasons why we think this move will change education for the better:
1. It’s time for 21st-century learning. A lot has changed since the ban was first enacted in the 2005-2006 school year. For one thing, Joel Klein, the Chancellor who put the ban in place, is now the CEO of Amplify, one of the country’s largest for-profit education technology companies, so it would seem his view on the role of tech in schools has evolved. Beyond that, consider all the new mobile tools, apps and resources that have popped up in the last year like KhanApp, Google Classroom, Blackboard and the dozens of others organized here by device type, operating system and learning activity. None of these tools were available for NYC educators to use in the classroom with students on mobile devices, and now they are.
2. Technology is a tool, not a toy. But in banning mobile devices, schools are perhaps inadvertently teaching young people that their mobile phones are limited to entertainment uses, and that is simply not true. There’s no question that a cell phone can be a distraction, but should we ban books in classrooms because 100% of printed material is not directly relevant to what’s taught in a classroom? Of course not. Lifting the ban represents a long-overdue mind shift in our understanding of how we interact with technology and media, and the role they have on our daily lives.
3. The ban disproportionately affects low-income students and families. If you go to a school in a high-risk area, you are more likely than others in low-risk communities to have to pass through a metal detector to get to class, and have your cell phone confiscated as a result. You may even pay to have your cell phone stored during the day so you can have it from the minute school lets out. But with no metal detector, you can probably keep it with you as long as you turn your phone on vibrate and manage the impulse to constantly check it – a habit most adults would do well to learn themselves. There are plenty of inequalities in New York City public education, and while the ability to carry a cell phone may not be the most urgent when compared with issues around segregation and spending, it’s one we can address in a fairly straightforward way. And now we’re finally doing it.
There can be no illusions that all of us, from students to school administrators to service providers, will face a number of challenges in successfully implementing and integrating mobile technology as part of public education. But holding on to the ban has only allowed us to avoid the hard work of making progress, all the while holding back our students and educators from doing their best. Dealing with the bureaucratic issues of lifting the ban is surely preferable to dealing with a city of young adults ill-prepared for life in the 21st century.