The Phone Ban

5 mins reading

When it comes to the ban, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon just yet…

I’d initially decided I wasn’t going to blog about this subject, but then a tweet I saw yesterday…

When you get far more replies than ‘likes’ on a post like this, such engagement might suggest that you’ve struck a nerve. I should make it clear that I admire a lot of the work Emma Alberici does, though have to differ when it comes to the sentiment expressed here. To catch you up if you’ve been living under a rock, just gotten back from holiday, or your phone’s simply been in your locker…

On 25 June 2019, the Victorian Government announced a forthcoming ban on students holding and using mobile phones during school hours in state primary and secondary schools. Devices will be shut away from sunlight throughout the school day, including during recess and lunch breaks. You can find a few more details on the rationale for this here.

Photo by Yura Fresh on Unsplash
Photo by Yura Fresh (free use via Unsplash)

I don’t want to pretend to comprehensively cover the debate – just as I don’t want to pretend to offer blanket solutions to a complex problem. I won’t dwell on the issue of student attention/focus in class, nor whether they will be missing out on building key digital competencies with a useful tool by their side. I won’t address the equity issues for public school students that have been flagged in recent days either. I don’t want to even touch the ludicrous idea that relegating smartphone use to out-of-school hours is a plausible means of combating cyberbullying.

There are arguments on both sides, and nobody’s going to figure it all out any time soon. But I do want to make a contribution to the discussion here, no matter how small, that comes at things from a different angle – an angle that from everything I’ve read, seen, and heard on the subject over the past few weeks has been overlooked. Here’s a quick summary of where I’m coming from via my response to Alberici’s tweet:

I’ve been teaching contemporary communication for a number of years, and during that time I’ve spoken and written a lot about the dystopian attitude that permeates society toward new(ish) technology. The moral panics underpinning this discourse is something that I consistently witness holding students back from engaging online in active, strategic, and immensely valuable ways as global, digital citizens. Working against the anxiety about using social media (yes, I know this flies in the face of the ‘digital native’ / ‘Gen Next’ stereotypes, but you’ll have to take my word for it) is something that permeates my teaching.

Every year, I seek to engage hundreds of students specialising in digital media, public relations, journalism, advertising, education, and numerous other areas in negotiating the complexities of the online world. Every single student I meet (on and offline) has either chosen to study social media-based units with me as part of a Communications degree or chosen to take a unit as an elective, and to varying degrees every single student has been influenced by a dominant discourse of technology perpetuated by politicians, teachers, journalists, and countless others. And yes, I do note the irony that journalists in particular are extremely apt at focusing on negative, generally exceptional cases of the ills of the digital world, while I’m seeking to bring a more balanced view to light in my teaching of future journalists.

The implicit (bordering on explicit) positioning of mobile phones as dangerous – as something nefarious enough to be literally locked away for a substantial period of time – reinforces this dystopian perspective in ways that aren’t really being considered. This certainly flies in the face of what I’ll be asking students to do by the time they venture into my seminars a few short months after finishing Year 12…

About page feature.jpg
Not the setting of my seminar, but you know what I mean…

This isn’t just about smartphones though – the simultaneous, paradoxical depiction of young people as dangerous and vulnerable can shape self-perceptions and behaviours more broadly than that (see my recent blog ‘Speaking of Students‘ on this). By the time I see new cohorts of first year students who’ve long been accustomed to having their phones confiscated (in practical terms) on a daily basis, they might find being asked to develop their digital literacy skills by harnessing the power of their smartphone in ethical, effective, and productive ways just that much more of a hill to climb.

I like to give young people more credit, trust, and agency than this. And I’m not the only one…

Even if I could do it, I certainly wouldn’t be asking to oversee the personal content of my students’ smartphones. So as much as I disagreed with Alberici’s tweet, I’m at least grateful for it insofar as it inspired this blog.

As an important aside, the only reason I saw Alberici’s tweet at all was because a current student who took a social media unit with me last trimester had herself replied to it, showcasing critical thinking, curiosity about the world, and confidence in engaging with it. Significantly, this student is studying to be a future primary school teacher and is clearly not prepared to submit to moral panics quite so easily as others.

Thanks for reading… even if you did have to wait until after 3:30pm to do so 🙂


Featured image: Photo by Jan Laugesen (free use via Unsplash)

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