Friday, September 3, 2010

Cell Phones: Ban Misuse Not the Devices-An Administrative A-ha

All through my years as a student in the public education system, and my years as an educator, I have seen many times what I would call the “Ban the device” management approach to problems caused by new technologies. I am telling my true age here, but when I started teaching in the Before Cell Phones era or BCP, administration banned pagers. Many of my students at the time sported pagers, and I can recall a few times when that beeping sound would emanate from some student’s backpack, and due to policy, I would have to confiscate that pager and turn it in at the office. Like cell phones are now, many of students had pagers stuffed in their pockets, purses, or backpacks. Once when I asked why they had a pager, most responded with pretty much the same answer our students give today for cell phones. “I like being in-touch with my parents, family, and friends.” Some of the rationale for banning pagers carried over to the cell phone era. I can remember one principal saying that pagers are banned because drug dealers use them. I’m sure that was true with some students, but I was uncomfortable then and I am just as uncomfortable now with that rationale because banning devices because they can misused can ignore the positive uses of such devices.

This morning I came across an article from The Daily American in Somerset, Pennsylvania that described the debate occurring with their school board over cell phone policy. Everywhere, school systems are struggling with the question of what to do with these devices. In this particular instance a network administrator did a safety presentation that outlines all the bad things such sexting and cyberbullying that can happen with the use of cell phones. This is common in many places. Many times administrators hear the horror stories and take the “It’s-not-gonna-happen-on-my-watch approach” and ban cell phones entirely based on how they can be used negatively.

In this case, it took a forward-looking board member to remind everyone of a simple fact: “You don’t ban the devices, you ban the behavior.” This board member summed up simply how administrators need to approach cell phone use. Don’t ban the device because students can misuse it. Focus instead on its positive uses, teach students appropriate and positive uses, and deal with cell phone misbehavior, not as a technology problem, but as a behavior problem. As I see it, we administrators have a choice. Choice A: Embrace cell phones as a natural part of like now and teach students how and when to use them appropriately, or Choice B: Continue an exercise in herding cats that will never do anything but consume our time.

Here’s the Daily American Article if you want to read it. (Internet Access Further Complicates Cell Phone Policy)

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