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Cellphone hangups

June 5, 2024

The latest chapter in the debate over student cellphone use in schools is taking place in Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine has signed legislation that aims to limit the use of the devices and curtail phone-related distractions in classrooms.

DeWine says the schools have a responsibility "to safeguard our kids from the nonstop barrage of alerts from the internet and social media that have proven to be damaging to their mental health." Some studies have cited links between cellphone use and cyberbullying and social isolation.

As someone who lived through the days when cellphones did not exist and the only phone in an entire school was in the principal's office, I know that students from previous generations were able to survive and even thrive by relying on pencils, paper, textbooks and classroom discussions without outside intrusions.

But even an aging Baby Boomer like me is familiar with the concept of FOMO and understands the allure of instant access to information, even if it is just the latest pronouncement from a TikTok or Instagram influencer.

It may not be realistic for schools to try to rein in cellphone use at school when so many students have their own devices, and tablets, laptop computers and internet connections have become an expected and essential part of 21st-century instruction. And in an era when school violence is not unheard of, many parents feel less apprehensive about their children’s safety when a student has a cellphone and call text or call a parent immediately in the event of an emergency.

Those who see technology as a valuable learning tool that enhances education have argued that instead of prohibiting cellphones and creating an adversarial relationship with students, schools should focus on teaching students how to use cellphones responsibly. The benefits—virtually unlimited access to research and other resources that enhance classroom instruction, the ability for cellphone users to personalize their learning—may outweigh the downsides.

I lean toward that view, but it’s an easy position to take from the sidelines as a magazine editor. A few days managing a classroom full of distractible students might convince me that Ohio has the right idea.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy has been writing about education for American School & University since 1999. He also has reported on schools and other topics for The Chicago Tribune, The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Times and City News Bureau of Chicago. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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