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Students and teachers work together to design new cell phone policy

Our upper school students and faculty have come up with a new cellphone policy. I think this charts a great path between regulation and responsibility, responding to technology concerns in a manner that is consistent with other aspects of school culture here.

The upper school student body president sent this message.

Hello Everyone,

The moment you’ve all been waiting for has arrived. We have decided on a cell phone “policy.” Throughout all of our discussion, the experiments, and the survey, we have always sought a solution that would preserve and improve the social atmosphere on campus. We have also sought a solution that could be accepted by everyone and embraced so as to work not as a top-down rule that required enforcement, but as an organic initiative. We believe in the responsibility of students here and we also believe their opinions matter, because they define the culture of the school. When people wrote in the survey that they need their cell phones during the day in order to manage their calendar and call their parents and organize their carpools, we took that into account. When other people said that they enjoyed the decreased use of cell phones during the first experiment, we listened to that also. Combining all of these sources of input and keeping our original goals in mind, we came up with a policy.

First of all, there can be no use of cell phones in the classroom. This is already an established rule, but must be acknowledged and upheld by students in order to prove our level of responsibility with cell phones and also to prevent cell phones from interfering with the educational productivity of the school. There also are no cell phones allowed at assembly as a common courtesy to the presenter and to everyone present.

Cell phones also cannot be used in the library in accordance with the rules set by the librarians. The library is a place for studying and the potential of cell phones to disturb others is great.

Cell phones cannot be used in the science building either. The science building does not contain any common (lounge) spaces and so students in the science building are in class (where cell phones are not allowed anyway).

These four restrictions are not new, but they must be adhered to in order to preserve our responsibility for our own cell phone use. The new aspect of our policy is to restrict cell phone use at school to practical purposes only. If you need to use a calendar that’s okay, if you need to call your parents that’s also okay, if you need to find a friend who you’re supposed to be meeting with to work on your history project that’s okay too. However, cell phones cannot be used for social purposes. Don’t text your friends who are elsewhere when there are so many interesting, amiable people around who you can talk to face to face. Don’t abandon a conversation with the person in front of you in order to take a phone call from another friend who is elsewhere. And when you are utilizing your cell phone for a practical purpose, use it conscientiously. Don’t text your parents while you’re talking to someone else. Don’t talk on your cell phone in a place where people are trying to study or talk or sleep. Basically, don’t be rude. During the school day you can use your cell phone when you need to, but do so in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t hinder your own or anyone else’s ability to enjoy their surroundings and this school.

If everyone embraces this idea of having a healthy social community, this plan will be a success. So only use your cell phones when you have to (for non-social purposes), use them discreetly, and encourage your friends to do the same.

Thank you in advance, everyone, for making this endeavor a success.

-Your CGSA

Can you text with thumbscrews on?

Catlin Gabel’s upper school head speaks to the challenge of the perceived effects of cell phone use on school culture. “CGSA” is the high school’s student association.

Republished from the Catlin Gabel Upper School Biweekly Bulletin

This week we had a fascinating discussion in our faculty meeting around cell phone use at the school. The CGSA came up with what I consider to be a thoughtful, cogent proposal for us to consider, and we as a faculty debated it fiercely and finally passed it as a policy. It will be revisited towards the end of the year, but we will plan on introducing it soon.

Certain restrictions have always been in place, such as not allowing cell phone use in classrooms, the library, or during assemblies. A subtler, more complex point has been added which states that cell phones should not be used for social reasons during the day. What I told the faculty in an email before our meeting is I really like the way the articulation of this policy resists a rules-based guideline and focuses more on explaining the values we have that lead us to limit our cell phone use. For us it is not the most facile or straightforward way, but it is the better path. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida talks about culture as something that is ‘arranged’ in a certain way, and this is what we are trying to do with this kind of policy—to form culture and even identity through these values.

Of course approaching behavior in this way is untidy. There’s a lot of gray and that makes some people nervous. That’s why a rule-based system is so much more attractive to many people. With clear rules firmly in place, you know where you stand and which side of the line the students are on. But this means you really do not need to engage and know your students. You can simply take their phones!

Our approach is different and for very good reasons. It’s our commitment to change a culture in a deeper way, far beyond any Behavioralist model of limits and environment. We want to talk about what is going on inside each student. We speak of words like ‘commitment’, ‘decency’, ‘kindness’, and we speak to people’s hearts, not just some external indicator that leads us to believe they are abiding by the rules.

With kind regards ~ Michael

Michael Heath is the head of upper school at Catlin Gabel