To the Editor:
While I understand that cellphones present a formidable challenge in the classroom, I was disturbed as a parent and educator by the message of casual normalization of cellphones for instruction (“Cellphones in Schools: A Huge Nuisance and Powerful Teaching Tool,” from the special report “Emerging Strategies in Teaching and Learning,” March 23, 2022).
Unless cellphones are distributed by school districts as educational devices, I believe they have no place in instruction. First, not every child has access to a cellphone (my own middle school age child does not), and the presumption of cellphone accessibility is inequitable at best. Second, cellphones are personal devices that are not equipped with the same safeguards for privacy and content as school-distributed devices. This means that any time a minor child is using a cellphone during instructional time, tracking internet use and content are potentially unregulated.
Furthermore, the attitude conveyed in a teacher’s comment that, “You’ve got to teach the kids how to manage their technology, and if we’re not going to do it in school, where’s it going to be done?” assumes that parents and families are unable or unwilling to teach their children how to engage with technology in healthy and effective ways. Educators who communicate paternalistic attitudes run the risk of alienating families who could otherwise be partners in educating children.
Our district has distributed 1:1 devices. If technology is needed, it should be designed to complement school-distributed materials. If we truly seek to create equitable community schools, we need to first ensure that all students have access to what they need to be successful. That belief relies on an equalization of accessibility and resources that cannot be accomplished when teachers use personal devices as instructional tools.
Julianna Lopez Kershen
A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2022 edition of Education Week as Personal Cellphones Are Not Instructional Tools