Why we encourage phones at the dinner table (and teachers should in class)

I’ve had several conversations with parents recently about phones in the classroom – there are a lot of people who want them banned, and I just can’t agree. My family sits down together for our evening meal almost every night and we positively encourage phones at the table – in fact my partner and I bring our own.

But here’s the thing: Sitting at the table and chatting with your friends on social media is not allowed, nor is answering emails. What is allowed, and encouraged, is getting information to fuel the discussion. How long was Rex Tillerson in charge of Exxon? What languages are similar to Finnish? When does the next season of the Expanse start up? I love the fact that we’re able to have a conversation and get facts as we go. The trick is doing it in a way which doesn’t bring the conversation to a grinding halt and which doesn’t lead to distraction. Learning that trick is one of the sub-text life lessons from our dinner table conversations.

You see, the phones are being used for good and in doing so we’re hopefully teaching our kids how to use a tool, and when not to use it. If we just banned the things there would be no lesson learnt.

This is even more important in the classroom. Not only will a good teacher positively encourage students to find the answers to things, to check, to amplify. A good teacher will also take advantage of the moment to pass on more general lessons – like when and how it a phone should be used appropriately.

Now I understand that there can be issues with discipline. But back in the dark ages when I went to high school there were issues with people doodling on a bit of paper. Teenagers are always going to find some release from a boring lesson. The simplistic solution to the discipline issue is of course to ban phones (and so shift the problem) but in doing so we have to recognise that we’re depriving these students of a chance to learn the appropriate use of a tool that they will be working with and around for the rest of their lives. Maybe at the simplest level, students need to learn how to mute their phone and send things to voicemail, but that itself is an important lesson in today’s world. A more complex issue is learning the self-control to not answer that Whatsapp message from your best friend, and that’s an even more important lesson.

Phones can be used for good. They can make a lesson better. Like all tools they can be mis-used, but just because they can be misused is no reason to ban them. Let’s teach our kids to use the tool effectively.

I’m not sure what’s driving the idea of banning phones to the top of people’s minds recently but it keeps coming up.

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