By the time you read this, students will be bringing their Christmas gifts to school with them. It's natural to want to show off your goodies. Some of these items will be whimsical, others annoying, and some high-tech items might actually enhance the learning process. None of that matters, though, since schools tend to follow the same new technology adoption cycle time and again:
1. Kid gets cool new thing and brings it to school.
2. School bans new thing.
3. School surrenders and begrudgingly allows new thing to be used under certain conditions.
4. Textbook industry finds a way to destroy interest in new thing.
For example, kids got iPods. Schools banned them, then realized that kids could podcast and publish to an authentic audience. Publishers figured out that kids could listen to multiplication tables and scintillating facts about invertebrates during their ride home. Kids tossed their beloved devices out the bus window.
We educators spend a lot of time and effort fussing about situations over which we have no control. A recent example of this futile hand-wringing concerns students with cameras in school. Today small, cheap cameras, laptops and cell phones may take a photo or record a video clip. Surely that can have educational benefits.
We should not only look for opportunities to build upon the talents, expertise and knowledge of our students, but find ways to use their gear to enrich the learning environment. There may have been a week, perhaps ten days, in 1987 when your classroom had better technology than a kid's bedroom. That was a historical accident unlikely to ever reoccur.
Kids use their little cameras in unexpected ways, and that of course spells trouble. Who cares if the camera may be to enhance curricular projects or document classroom practice or capture a "light-bulb moment"? It doesn't matter if a 15-year-old in Clifton, N.J., used his camera phone to foil his own abduction. Schools are upset that a student might film something that embarrasses a teacher or school.
Beyonc? feels your pain. In early June, the Bootylicious diva was performing in Orlando when she took a nasty tumble down a set of onstage stairs. Upon recovering her balance and composure, Ms. Knowles admonished the audience, "Don't put this up on YouTube."
Despite her plea, countless clips of the fall appeared on YouTube immediately. Television news programs showed the YouTube clips. Beyonce's record company threatened YouTube with legal action.
If a TV network had filmed Beyonc? falling, that would be news. Is it different because the footage is from a fourth-grade fan's cell phone? Major news outlets and television networks now actively solicit amateur video.
There is another possibility. Students might actually capture evidence of teacher misconduct. In that case, the cell phone might protect children and your district. In either case, a grandmother's advice is apropos-always wear clean underwear, and don't be a jerk.
A Modest New Year's Resolution
This year, why not make every effort to reduce the level of antagonism between adults and children in your schools? Imagine the discipline problems you could alleviate and academic success you might achieve if everyone in your school community committed to reducing hostility between adults and young people. A simple phrase may lead to remarkable reform: "Don't be a jerk!"
When I walk onto an airplane or into Carnegie Hall, a polite person says, "Please turn off your cell phone." Not doing so would make me a jerk. There are social and other penalties for noncompliance, but they don't rise to the level of the needless tension often present in school.
Having your cell phone ring in class is rude and makes you a jerk. Since the goal is civility, the same rule should apply to educators. Suspending a student for taking a call from his mother serving in Iraq (true story) makes you a jerk. Suspending teenage girls for hugging violates the resolution too.
Remember, nice guys don't end up on YouTube!