France did it in 2018. Italy followed suit last year. Finland wised up in June. England did it this week. The question American parents and teachers should be asking themselves is this: How long will it take for American school districts and states to ban mobile phones in classrooms here as well?
There are no new insights left about the pernicious power cell phones have on the attention spans and value systems of our children. It has almost become a banal discussion at teacher meetings and conferences — parents are going on a decade of complaints now about the life-sucking force of their children’s cell phones. Academics from both the left and the right have bemoaned their influence in the classroom. There have been thousands of essays and opinion pieces written. Research is now confirming what we have always known to be anecdotally true — for example, that banning phones leads to higher test scores, and heavy phone use correlates with lower GPAs.
There is a broad consensus across the free world that the moral, intellectual, and emotional development of our children is titanically stunted by digital monomania. Classroom teachers, myself included, noticed long ago that our younger students can’t focus long enough to even watch movies nowadays. They don’t talk or gossip or flirt when there is time at the end of class. Homework that used to take 30 minutes now takes hours. Reading is passé as students spend their teenage years debasing their intellect while scrolling through infantile reels for hours on end. They are more likely to read a book for pleasure at 9 years old than at 17.
Apollon education — which used to be predicated on order, rules, and the tradition of curriculum — has been utterly corrupted by the digital Dionysian chaos engulfing the lives of our children.
Studies seem to suggest that parents want to ban cell phones in classrooms by a significant margin. So do teachers. And many Americans wonder why we don’t follow our European brethren in issuing sweeping edicts about the usage of cell phones in our schools.
This frustration, however, is symbolic of a larger issue in education more important and epochal in its significance than even the usage of cell phones.
The desire to ban cell phones in schools is a proxy for a broader and more significant desire for adults to reassert themselves in our schools. From equity policies which are nothing more than clandestine seeds of student mediocrity, to discipline policies that curry unending chaos in our schools — the fanaticism of chicness has embroiled our schools for too long and everyone knows it.
Teachers know it is not “compassion” to pass students with a 40 percent. We have known for a while that it is ineffective teaching to have students work on Chrome books all day. We know it is not oppressive to have standards and to insist our students model those standards in classrooms and on campuses. We know suspending proficiency exams with the shambolic excuse that it will help “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color” is a leftist trope — another policy that promotes so-called “equity” over learning.
There was a moment in the past decade when most teachers, myself included, thought that the ubiquitous presence of cell phones made a war against them unwinnable. Many of us thought it more judicious to find a way to integrate the technology into our classroom routines. Likewise, many of us were open to discipline reform and innovation in the way we graded our students. But the reality of what these fashionable ideas have done to American education is too difficult to ignore. The pendulum can, and must, start to swing the other way.
Yes, let’s ban cell phones in our schools. But let’s not pretend digital devices are the only — or even the most important — issue facing our schools today. The leaders who write our policies and the professional development gurus who alter the waves of pedagogic practice need to start heeding the words of parents and teachers.
Stop reforming. Start remembering. Be adults. Our children have enough immaturity in their lives.