Cellphones not the same as note-passing

Published Sept. 17 2019

To the Editor

Thank-you for your timely piece on cellphones in the classroom. I am going into my 17th year teaching and I have seen technology jump from flip phones to iPods to smartphones and while I agree that distractions have always existed smartphones are categorically different and not only represent an existential threat to education but are also rewiring the way young people think and engage. Increasingly research indicates that smartphones are leading to exponential increases in mental health issues (particularly in young women) and a host of other problems that we are only beginning to understand.

The mitigation and complete exclusion of smartphones in the classroom is in fact enforceable and quite frankly an essential part of my job. I need my students engaged and present. This idea that teachers need to teach digital literacy is both specious and ludicrous. My seven-year-old twins can work out how a smartphone and iPad works. The idea that I can (or should) be teaching students about technology seems about as useful as my grandfather teaching me how to use a computer.
This isn’t a question of teaching good phone etiquette or punishing aberrant behaviour much less about penalizing poor choices; this is at its core a substance use issue and one that too many of us (including myself) have failed to understand.  (And my God as a teacher it pains to accept that more education may not be the solution here.)  Smartphone applications are quite literally designed to be addictive. Young people aren’t choosing to use Snapchat they are compelled to.

However the unspoken problem here I suspect isn’t the smartphone ban at all but the source of the recent edict. Voters under a Liberal government who otherwise might have ardently supported this policy find themselves in the awkward position of either having to agree with Doug Ford or having to square the circle with asinine concepts that involve “teaching digital citizenship” or the aforementioned “digital literacy.” I disagree with class size increases and the bailing out of Bombardier but Ford nailed the smartphone issue.
Smartphones in the class are not the same as passing notes. They are not merely another distraction and our failure as adults to make this distinction and take right action may be damning an entire generation.

Rory Gilfillan
Eagle Lake