Today's NY Times contains an article about one country's attempt to address the plague of smartphone addiction among young people: The article is France Bans Smartphones in Schools Through 9th Grade. Will It Help Students? (It can be accessed online at:
The French law applies to what we would call elementary and middle school students and prohibits use of smartphones anywhere on school grounds except in cases where their use is assigned by a teacher. Students may bring their phones to school but must keep them out of sight in lockers or school bags.
The reasoning behind the law seems obvious. "It's a message we send to society: Do not always be on your phones," said the Education Minister, who also mentioned "mastery of math, of general culture, the ability to flourish in social relationships, a capacity to discuss with others, to understand and respect others" as among the "tools" today's students need to acquire. but perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the law were made by those doubting it. On teacher said, "If I confiscated them [smartphones], my students would not come anymore to class." Or the student who said, "I could leave it at home and pick it up after school, but I'd be missing something. I would not feel good at all." the authors describe interviewing that student and another. "During an interview in a cafe, both girls restrained themselves from doing much texting, but kept touching their phones."
Obviously, phones at school present a very special problem, since school is were students are socialized to be productive members of society and, even more basically, decent functioning human beings. so the importance of creating a phone-free environment ought to be evident. that it may not be so sufficiently evident to parents and other adults suggests a larger problem, however. Thus, one teacher argued that as an "answer to the addiction problem, the proposed law was putting the responsibility in the wrong place. "Who buys the phones for the children? he asked. "Who doesn't give them a framework and set limits on using them? Parents."
Indeed, I think adults are not culpable just for facilitating the next generation's phone usage, but also for their own usage and the harm it has done to social life and basic human decency. Adults, including generation that grew up with serious schooling and without any of the distractions of smartphones, are often as addicted and ill-mannered as youngsters when it comes to smartphone usage.
Of course, smartphones are a great invention and have all sorts of valid and positive uses. But like any technological innovation - going all the way back to Tubal-cain's invention of bronze and iron tools (Genesis 4:22) - the same invention can have both good and bad uses and both good and bad social effects. Banning smartphones from school is a wonderful move, but it is only a first step. What we really need to to cultivate social disapproval of using a smartphone (as has so successfully been done with smoking in public) in situations where one is socially engaged with others. I own an iPhone, and I use it daily. But when I sit down to dinner with others, for example, I leave my phone in another room if possible and so avoid any temptation to use it when I should be talking to the people I am with. Banning (both formally and informally) even the presence of such devices at table in restaurants and other public eating places and at meetings and other such settings where people are supposed to engage with each other would not only be a good thing but may be becoming a very necessary thing!
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