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Every morning, I walk into third period Advanced Placement (A.P.) U.S. Government and stride right past my desk, headed for the far side of the classroom where numbered pockets hang from the wall. I place my phone in the 18th slot and proceed back towards my seat, where I sit without my phone for the remainder of class.
This practice of taking phones at the beginning of class, or using “phone banks” or “phone hotels,” is now common in high schools across the country. The premise for the measure is straightforward: Take phones away from students, and they’ll pay more attention in class. In the absence of incessant notifications and constant connectivity, students have no choice but to focus on learning.
It should come as no surprise that today’s youth, who have grown up on mobile devices, aren’t the biggest fans of the policy. Much of the resistance towards phone hotels and similar restrictions can likely be attributed to an increasingly pervasive phenomenon called “nomophobia” — the fear of being without a mobile device. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey of teenagers found that “More than half of teens (56 percent) associate the absence of their phone with at least one of three emotions: loneliness, being upset, or feeling anxious.”
The growing smartphone addiction among teens is a reality that few, including teens themselves, would refute. It’s also not hard to see how a phone-free environment is conducive to greater productivity.
So why do so many students dislike phone banks? The reasons go deeper than just nomophobia.
There is clearly no malicious intent behind taking phones away from students. But for many like me, it sends an implicit message of distrust and even condescension. It tells me that I, a 17-year-old who voluntarily signed up for an A.P. course, am not seen as mature enough to pay attention in class. The feeling that one is not being respected as an equal is at best irksome and at worst hindering to an effective learning environment. Micromanaging students’ use of technology could easily have the unintended effect of alienating them before the lesson even begins.
Another common perspective is that students are responsible for deciding whether or not to pay attention in class. No one in college or the workplace will dictate when they are able to use their phones; they must learn on their own how to manage their time wisely. Moreover, if a student is determined to slack off in class, they can (and will) find a way to do so through alternative methods of distraction.
That being said, students aren’t oblivious to the fact that smartphones can disrupt learning, and most would agree there is a time a place for their use. For example, it would make sense to look up information or listen to music when doing independent work, but phones clearly obstruct the retention of information during lectures. As with most things, neither extreme is the answer.
If not for improved focus in the classroom, students should still limit smartphone use at school for the betterment of their own mental health and well-being; research continues to find a link between excessive technology use and mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. However, phone banks may not be the best way to achieve this goal.
Instead of treating students like recalcitrant teens who lack self-control, a compromise could be found in asking them to turn off notifications and keep phones inside their backpacks. This way, devices would be out of sight and out of mind, presumably the objective of phone hotels. Although phones would remain in close reach, students would feel that they are more in control and doing something of their own volition, which gives way to increased cooperation.
Technology has its place in the modern-day classroom, and so does its limitation. It is in the best interest of both students and educators that attempts at restricting the use of smartphones are pragmatic.
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