Panic button

Panic Button

Source: Panic Button

A story from this morning’s paper, in response to a recently publicised assault on a teacher by a student recorded on a mobile phone camera.

…”State School Teachers Union president Anne Gisborne said measures were needed to ensure an urgent response when teachers were in danger. “In circumstances such as that school, there might need to be phones in each classroom, that makes it easier to contact, there might be an emergency bell,” she said.

Education Minister Liz Constable said all options would be looked at. “But again you have to be in the place where that panic button is, don’t you, when the incident occurs,” she said.”

‘Hard to get to’? ‘Need to be in the place where the panic button is’? ‘Might need phones?’ (Another) ‘bell?’

I had to read the passage twice to check and thought: How about that device called mobile phone? You know, the most commonly used, instant, ubiqutous communication device, banned from most classrooms these days.

But mobiles are not a panacea. They are simply extension of human power to do wonderful and stupid things alike.

On the same day, I saw a former colleague bullied on YouTube (I won’t give you the link because I do not want to give this or similar clips any oxygen). It is cruel, ignorant bullying of a teacher out in plain view, recorded on a mobile. Good teacher or bad teacher – it doesn’t matter. It is a sad and disturbing case, bringing out what REALLY sometimes goes on in our classrooms. A person got hurt. Period.

Some would argue at least it’s in public and the perpetrators can be brought to account, some would be horrified at the prospect of having something like that aired publicly, to the pleasure or horror of Anonymous. Then again, I hear many pundits already saying “it’s those damn mobiles, ban the lot in class, they have nothing to do with learning”.

They do and they don’t. Why?

To me, three best things a teacher, parent, or a school can model and encourage are: a) resilient love of learning, b) sustained attention and immersion with a meaningful learning task, and c) ethical discernment when things are appropriate or not.

Apart from some amazing individuals I’ve worked with or heard of, your regular downtown school sucks at these: a) is quashed by grades, b) goes out the window when the bell goes, and c) is usually talked about AT students or staff, not WITH them, because everyone needs to “mind their own role (in the hierarchy) and do their job”.

When mobiles (mostly all sophisticated net devices these days anyway) help us find things, communicate, connect, understand and expand in a matter of seconds like never before (or perhaps help the safety of staff and students…) – use them (a). When mobiles become weapons of mass distraction – turn them off (b). But talk with (not AT) the kids honestly and challenge them when it comes to ethical use (c).

Kids know a lot more about the use of mobiles, appropriate and inappropriate, already than Education Minister or Union President (not hard that..) but they either have little say in things or they are, yes, plain immature. Now there’s a chance to give them a chance at real responsibility to mature.

Outside of school walls there are times we ignore mobiles – we discern, make choices.  I’ve sometimes joked with kids in class saying: “Would you respond to a call, txt, tweet or friend writing on your Facebook wall when you are about to kiss the guy or girl you have been wanting to kiss for months? Why not?”. There are times we multitask and we need to and so on… There are times for things and there are reasons for them.

So, mobiles (much as violence against teachers) are not a  technology issue or at least something technology will help us instantly solve. They are an opportunity to discuss ethical issues.

By knee-jerk banning mobiles, we may be eroding the very things we could do the kids and ourselves as educators and parents the biggest favour with – examining our own and each other’s ideas and change them if necessary, not just imposing the values and making sure that the ones carrying the biggest stick win, no matter how stupid they actually are.

Hard? Yes. Worth it? More than a lot of other stuff taught.

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Author: human on May 22, 2010
Category: 4. Teaching
Tags: , ,
4 responses to “Panic button”
  1. As usual right on the money Tomaz… The banning of phones in schools does not stop kids bringing them to school or even using them in the classroom. I model appropriate use of the mobile by not using it in class UNLESS I need to call the front office or need to inform a colleague in an email. I DO USE the mobile phone but mostly as a source of recorded music or as a camera. I do think that a blanket ban is as realistic as the blanket ban on social media in schools – A let’s pretend we did something and maybe it will just go away response that doesn’t address the reality of the classroom, the kids needs or those of their families and their world.
    My 20c worth

  2. monika says:

    interesting…thank you for sharing.

    couros at upei was saying the only thing really bad about youtube is the comments.
    i heard that right after i had seen this..

    i agree.. we’re focusing on the wrong things and skirting areas that could actually make the world a better place …

  3. Jan says:

    Great post Tomaz. Thoughtful and right on the mark. Mobile phones are such a contentious issue in schools and the notion of taking a positive approach and discussing ethics is the way it should be. Common sense really but not common practice. Thanks.

  4. Dan McGuire says:

    It’s just plain silly that mobile phones aren’t only allowed but put to the many good uses that they could be used for in schools. Text messaging costs cell phone companies nothing to provide; that’s right zero, Nada, zilch. That’s because the text messages are transmitted between the signals that are sent from the towers to the phones when the phones are located and maintained for transmission. If the phone is on and is getting a signal, text messages can sent and received from that phone with no additional equipment used. It would actually save the cell phone companies money if they didn’t keep track of the usage and bill for it, except that in too many places they’re allowed to make exorbitant profits by using the airwaves to connect to their customers.

    Text messaging could eliminate many of those annoying building wide announcements in schools, except for the necessary ones. It could certainly eliminate those calls from the office or the counselor that seem to ring just when I’ve gotten the groups attention and am about to explain the next step in the learning activity. I could read a text message like, “send Johnny to Room 101 for his meds” without even interrupting a lesson. Text messaging to all staff should be used simply as a security measure to enable administrators to get security messages to staff when necessary. I could fairly discretely ask a colleague who I know is on prep time to cover my class while I used the bathroom; now we’re talking real benefits. Parents could get messages to me and their kids without disrupting the class. And, we haven’t even started talking about all of the ways that cell phones could be used to enhance a lesson, especially if the students had them too. We have the resources to provide every kid with a cell phone and text messaging capabilities. In many places, like here in Minneapolis, students could access free wifi from pones which would enable them to login to their classroom Moodle sites and all civic sites, too. Like I said, it’s kinda silly not to use them.

    Thanks for keeping this issue on the table, Tomaz.

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