Can’t control? Then ban

I have to be careful these days with my views. I may be out of touch. I was last in the system in 2011, so I’m approaching a decade out. And in the later years of my career, it was all changing so quickly. Plus, I might add, I was teaching in the sticks; largely to wonderful country kids. I suspect that what I encountered there was not at all similar to fronting classes in the big city. My students were mostly eminently sensible and amenable. I loved being associated with them.

But even there and back then mobile phones were starting to cause issues for some staff. The banter was about; what to do about their negatives was occasionally raised at meetings.

71497911-student-using-smartphone-during-class

I’m reading in Ms Stewart’s take on the situation that the young people of today she’s in contact with are far more connected these than those I was familiar with; the concerns arising more critical. As I write, this is being bought into our lounge rooms by the timely SBS series ‘The Hunting’. It should make all parents of the age group sit up and take notice. Such a knotty problem, sexting. There’s on-line bullying through those devices to consider, plus the anxiety caused by the fear of missing out. I was amazed when the columnist cited that, on average, those hand-held marvels are checked 80 to 130 times a day by the age group. I’d be lucky to check mine a dozen. The corollary, of course, is the anxiety caused by being unable to refer so often, due to school policy.

the-hunting-sbs

As a member of school management I always opposed any limitation to student use of their phones. If sanctioned by parents they had a right, I figured, to be in possession of them. It was my view that any practitioner worth their salt in the classroom could control their use, even put them to work for educational purposes. Most of the problems back then had their genesis out of school. When it spilled over we had to deal with it, but it didn’t seem in danger of being out of control back in the years leading up to my retirement. In the back of one’s mind, heaven forbid, was always the worst case scenario. We all know what has happened – still is happening – in American schools with that nation’s ludicrous gun laws. If any school has to go into lock down then, I would have thought, it would be essential for students to be in possession of their mobiles for all sorts of reasons. To me, it was/is a no-brainer. If the worst came to the worst, could schools be held accountable for taking the devices off their young people? I can’t see that’s changed.

On the basis of back then I would be more inclined to take Steve Sperling’s view on the matter, but I suspect it’s far more complicated and onerous now. Poor principals. As if they don’t have enough to contend with – if the SBS show is anything to go by.

the hunting

I have my doubts as to whether I’d be of the same opinion now. Sperling’s take should hold sway in the ideal world, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that the Victorian ban will become nationwide. Like so much with change in the digital age – pity.

‘The Hunting’, SBSonDemand =https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/program/the-hunting

Sam Sperling’s column – https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/phone-ban-another-example-of-how-teachers-are-devalued-20190627-p521sw.html

Erin Stewart’s column =

Instead of focusing on what someone is saying, the book you’re reading, the event you’re at … you’re feeling twitchy. You know there’s nothing important on your social media apps, no new emails will have landed, but the pull to infinitely scroll through these things – refresh, check for updates – is still strong. In an effort to reduce this distracting urge among young people, as well as to redress cyberbullying, mobile phones will be banned in public primary and secondary schools throughout Victoria over the entire school day as of the start of the 2020 school year.

Seeing young people’s reticence and anxiety at merely being asked to switch there phone off, it’s clear this proposed phone ban will be good for them. I’ve worked with teenage students as an exam invigilator and it’s a constant challenge to get them to turn their phone off. Even in exams where students can be disqualified for having a phone on, even if I’ve told them countless times to turn it off, phones are still an issue. I’ve regularly had to track down the source of muffled beeping, or spotted the telltale rectangular pane of light coming from a phone held under a table.

I’ve never seen a student using their phone to cheat. Instead, they have WhatsApp or Facebook open, their phone is still left on because they can’t bear the idea of turning it off and being disconnected. They couldn’t get through a couple of quiet hours without feeling that pull towards their phone.

Constant phone use is a problem facing young people, but they’re not alone in it. Adults haven’t been great role models when it comes to moderating phone use. In 2017, Australia’s biggest smart phone survey found that we check our phones between 85 to 130 times a day, on average. Just under half of participants under the age of 65 said that they couldn’t live without their smartphone.

I’m not a relatively active smartphone user, and yet mine still has a pervasive place in my life. The first thing I do on waking up each morning is to check my phone. I find myself throughout the day coming up with pithy phrases and taking pictures I can share with my friends about what I’ve been up to. If I have a few minutes in front of me with nothing to do, I unlock my phone and check my apps.

This incessant phone use is a time-waster, an energy-drainer, an anxiety-inducer, and with our heads tilting forward so often, an ergonomic nightmare. One of the best things we could teach young people is how to survive without them, and to learn to value things in life other than being able to share an Instagram story.

At the start of the next school year, students are bound to feel anxious and uncomfortable while their phones stay in their lockers for stretches of six or more hours. What if someone wants to talk to you or something important is happening? What will your thumbs do if they can’t flick across a screen? But once the withdrawal period is over, hopefully a new generation will see that life doesn’t end when you switch your phone off. And then maybe they’ll be role models for the rest of us who need this lesson too.

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