Do Cell Phones Belong in the Classroom?

Robert Earl
The Atlantic

If you were to drop in on most any American high school these days, what would you see? Cell phones. Lots of them. Virtually all students have one, and it's typical to see them tapping away or listening to music through their ear buds -- not just in the hallways during the five minutes between classes, but also in the classroom, at every opportunity the teacher gives them.

Most schools allow students to have cell phones for safety -- a reaction to the Littleton, Colorado, high school shooting incident of 1999. Apart from emergency situations, most schools don't officially allow students to use cell phones during class time. However, when the teacher is busy helping out another student or writing on the board, out come the phones as students send instant messages to friends, listen to music, or watch videos on the Internet. Eventually, the teacher notices and warns them that their phones will be confiscated. The phones disappear with reluctant obedience -- until the next opportunity arises to surreptitiously pull them out again.

At a time when middle-class homes are filled with computers and mobile devices, schools are grappling with the question of how much technology to bring into the classroom. A recent Washington Post article profiled two private schools in the Washington, D.C., area - one (the Flint School) that surrounds kids with gadgets and another (a Waldorf School) that doesn't even teach students to use computers. Most schools fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

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