Calling for a Middle Ground on Cell Phone Use


Senior Bridie MacLean places her phone in one of Oakmont’s many wall pockets. Photo by Macy Ghilardi

Macy Ghilardi, Author, Editor

Pencils out, notebooks open, ID’s on, and phones… hanging from the wall?

For many returning Oakmont students, the arrival of new cell phone restrictions provoked a wave of groans and eye rolls. Preceded by a summer full of mindless scrolling and Snapping, the last thing any high schooler wanted to do on the first day was place their phones in the droll pockets clinging to each classroom wall. Many found it to be a rude awakening on an already early morning.

Negative responses to the school’s action were ultimately inevitable. After all, classroom distractions existed long before cell phones, and are essentially habitual amongst adults and children alike. For what seems like forever, students of all ages have been class clowns, daydreamers, doodlers, restless leg bouncers, and pencil tappers. Realistically, texting in class is a modern extension of passing a handwritten note along to a friend behind the teacher’s back. Many teachers of past generations can attest to that.  

Distractions have, and always will, exist, despite any rule changes. Why, then, have we young adults been dubbed as too irresponsible for a piece of technology which ultimately can be an educational tool? 

A certain level of restriction on cell phone usage inside the classroom is reasonable, however, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a steady middle ground on the issue. For example, many students argue that a complete no-phone policy for the long term feels like a punishment for those who choose to use their technology responsibly, while many teachers counter that decreased usage develops a higher level of attention and immersion inside the classroom. 

According to a study by the Journal of Communication Education, researchers concluded what most already knew: students who either left their phones with the teacher, or at home, showed exceptionally more advanced effort and higher grades than those who had their phones on them during class. On average, the students without their phones near them recorded 62% more notes during lessons, and scored a full letter grade and a half greater on multiple choice assessments. 

On the other hand, the students observed in the study were under extreme phone restrictions, and experienced little to no middle ground or leeway from administration on the issue. The study does not detail how the heavy cutbacks affected the students individually, rendering it not only overbearing, but rather unrealistic.

Despite the positive outcome of the conducted research, the study relied heavily on biased standards used to support the argument against phones. Inside the walls of any high school, the likelihood of students being so compliant to heavy cell constraints is much lower than what is represented in the Journal of Communication Education. In the event of a wave of stricter regulations, students may not develop levels of necessary trust between administration, or may spend more time retaliating than learning. For instance, students could begin to withhold their phones and become major distractions, which would also raise the amount of people finding themselves with detentions, or worse. 

As reported by Joanne Golann, assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, schools in the U.S. who seemingly micro-manage the students and enforce overall significantly stricter rules are not enhancing learning, but instead ruining relationships between staff and pupils, amongst other negative consequences.

Although basic enforced rules in schools create order, organization, and are an unassailable start to learning, when administration and faculty make too many modifications to pre-existing decrees, students are bound to rebel.

Golann observed how extreme levels of control caused students to spend more time pushing back, becoming frustrated with staff, and quickly disengaging from learning. Similarly, noted students were unable to form crucial, healthy relationships with staff, and lost trust in the overall system. Under the guise of “helping students to engage”, the overbearing schools achieved the opposite: Golann recorded students having difficulty taking initiative, and especially formulating and voicing their own personal opinions. This can be attributed to the students reading the school’s message as mandatory compliance from the entire student body.

Overall, Oakmont seems to excel in having quality, beneficial relationships between its administration, educators, and learners, but if higher regulations occur, those ties are not guaranteed to remain. Of course, there are students who would rather scroll through Instagram instead of taking notes, and given the chance, would do just that. Yet, throughout the hallways and classrooms, seniors on the verge of becoming legal adults recall a sense of embarrassment at the lack of trust given to them regarding the technology they own, yet they know the rest of the student body shares the concern.

Perhaps, instead of having all students give up their phones to the futile wall holders, those who repeatedly and knowingly choose to take their phones out of their backpacks during inappropriate class time and use them for non-educational purposes can be met with the consequence of having to use the phone pockets for a number of subsequent days. Not only would this preserve teacher-student relations and trust, this approach will align more appropriately to Oakmont’s Core Values, particularly those of respect, responsibility, and self direction. Additionally, this move would serve to further prepare those looking to enter college, as students will learn how to control their own behavior without having their phone collected and taken away. 

Another solution to the meteoric rise of phone policy problems has been proposed by two-time award winning professional developer of Mud and Ink Mentoring, a service which helps enhance the way in which schools operate for both students and staff. A teacher herself, Amanda Cardenas purchased an $8 clear shoe hanger with pockets and a USB power strip, offering it to students, then proposed to her classroom that they could either charge their phones at her makeshift station for the entire class period, not including when phones are blended into the curriculum or when there is free time to study on the devices. They could also choose to keep their devices with them. This decision of whether or not to place their phones in the station felt less like a punishment for kids, and in turn, more students were able to critically think about their actions and recognize their own behaviors, which fascinated Cardenas. The main point of this method is how students have a choice of where both their phones as well as their responsibilities lie.

While phone usage inside school walls may come coupled with complicated common sense, a neutral territory is practical and healthy for the entire school environment, as proved by Cardenas’ charging station concept. It’s time for a flexible change to be made, with an impartial middle ground established. If students abuse the teachers’ rules, then they can face consequences; however, it seems generally unfair to do so without exact causation.

Not all students have bad intentions with their cell phones. It’s time for this to be established and enacted for the preservation of paramount relationships to the benefit of the entirety of Oakmont’s climate, as well as to uphold a positive attitude towards faculty and administration.