Cell Phones, Tardies, and Time
School is generally regarded as preparation for college, career, and life. Academic classes provide the foundation and framework in the 3 R’s (Reading, [w]Riting, and [a]rithmetic); career and technology classes provide training and awareness of career options; and the overall school experience permits students the chance to live, work, and thrive in a school community.
This year, the administration of Clinton High School decided to curb certain behaviors they viewed as impeding learning, namely restricting cell phone use, getting visibly tough on absences and tardies, and feverishly protecting classroom instructional time.
Some in the community may ask why such actions were taken? First, the above actions are either in board policy or in the student handbook (and have been for years). A deeper probe into the reasoning for these actions derives from concerns in adolescent research or employer comments.
First, Clinton High School does not ban cell phone use.
Cell phones can be kept on the student and used before and after school and during lunch; they cannot be seen or used in classes. This plan is not a total ban but merely a reaffirmation of existing district policy.
Many studies indicate cell phones have benefits when used properly; however, unrestrained use leads to dependency … even like that of a chemical dependency (e.g., heroin). Impulsivity, anxiety, and depression have been seen in students who have been kept from their cell phones.
A 2017 study in The New York Times revealed stunning consequences from being “plugged in” 24/7. Nancy Colier, author of the book The Power of Off, and referenced in the New York Times article noted:
“Most people now check their smartphones 150 times per day, or every six minutes,” Ms. Colier wrote. “And young adults are now sending an average of 110 texts per day.” Furthermore, she added, “46 percent of smartphone users now say that their devices are something they ‘couldn’t live without’.”
The New York Times author, Jane Brody, also included further concerns in her article, “Hooked on Our Smartphones” (January 9, 2017):
In “The World Unplugged Project,” investigators at the University of Maryland reported that “a clear majority” of students in the 10 countries studied experienced distress when they tried to go without their devices for 24 hours. One in three people admitted they’d rather give up sex than their smartphones.
I fear we are turning into digital robots.
Will future generations know how to converse with one another face to face? Will they notice the birds, trees, sunrise and the people with whom they share the planet?
Instead of visiting art galleries, attending concerts or walking on picturesque wooded paths, one woman I know who came to Woodstock, N.Y., last summer spent the weekend on her iPad communing with her many “friends” on Facebook. All I could think was “What a waste!”
Why, you may ask, is it so important to limit our digital lives? “Without open spaces and downtime, the nervous system never shuts down — it’s in constant fight-or-flight mode,” Ms. Colier said in an interview. “We’re wired and tired all the time. Even computers reboot, but we’re not doing it.”
She continued, “It’s connections to other human beings — real-life connections, not digital ones — that nourish us and make us feel like we count. Our presence, our full attention is the most important thing we can give each other. Digital communications don’t result in deeper connections, in feeling loved and supported.”
An additional tweak to current handbook procedures is the strong enforcement of the no tardy rule. Meetings with local and state business leaders reveal one of the biggest causes for termination is “poor work habits,” and among those unsavory characteristics is tardy or absent to work. “Students just don’t understand time and consequences for not showing up to (or being late to) work,” one business leader noted.
The district is also actively pursuing and taking a tough stance against unexcused absences. Granted, legitimate sickness or injury are most often excused with medical notes and parents continue to have a limited number of excuses they may write on occasion.
In conclusion, the above efforts are in no way meant to be punitive; instead, the intent and reasoning are educational. Quite simply, students can’t learn as well as they should if they are distracted or otherwise engaged (i.e., cell phones) and students won’t learn as they should if they are tardy or have excessive, unexcused absences.
Dr. Brothers reminds students daily, “The tassel is worth the hassle.” And it is … good study and work habits are best learned young. It may be a temporary hassle, but the payoff is worth it. Very much worth it!
(Dr. David O’Shields is District 56 Superintendent.)