Cell Phone Use at AHS: A Tough Call

Dylan Kistler, Reporter

Beginning this fall semester, the AHS administration has changed its stance on regulating cell phone usage in classes, ultimately amounting to a commitment that teachers will uniformly enforce existing policy: phones used outside of teacher-sanctioned exceptions will be confiscated, with further confiscations leading to disciplinary action. Whereas in previous years students might have expected one or more of their teachers to have a relaxed response when they snuck in a text or snap – and likewise be flustered by other teachers who took the issue seriously – the recent shift aims to improve consistency and effectiveness for learning in the rapidly evolving 21st century.

Although some students view the change as an unwarranted encroachment on their right to be a self-directed learner, numerous teachers see this as a long overdue step for AHS. Kimberley Healey is among them: “I want students to talk to each other and relax. When they need to use a phone, it’s an excellent chance to exercise self-advocacy by communicating their valid reason to the teacher.” Healey’s colleague, Paul Huard, added that “the policy will help combat this growing distraction which affects every age group in society. I often remind my students that their friends will still be there after school. However, I want to continue to reserve discretion for allowing students their technology’s legitimate uses [in class].” Dean of Students Glenna Stiles commented on this communication between students and administration, noting that “it was the respectful advocacy of one student in the library that persuaded us to change the rules in the library in order to allow listening to music and audio books with earbuds.”

The broad enforcement of cell phone restrictions has become the norm. “All high schools I’ve been a part of similarly didn’t allow cell phones in class,” chimed in government teacher Peter Bolling, who has previously taught in Ketchikan, Alaska, and Medford, Oregon. Thai students who visited Ashland this September shared with the Rogue News that in their country, cell phones are not permitted during any school hours except for in unique circumstances. Beyond having a similar phone policy to Ashland High’s, their culture also views cell phone use in classes as a major respect issue – being caught just once could compromise a student’s relationship with their teacher.

Not all evidence points to a positive effect from the policy. Psychology Today writer Carl Pickhardt asserts that if independence isn’t permitted before young adults are forced to fend for themselves, their chances of fending off negative habits later on will suffer. Teens’ ability to autonomously set their own boundaries is a crucial skill in development during high school, and it necessitates practice to be acquired. Moreover, a student’s trust and peer-like friendships with teachers, proven to enhance investment in the education process, could be strained as a result of the policy. The American Psychological Association posits that student motivation in the classroom is tied to three core elements of each students’ “self-system”: competence (capability and focus), autonomy (a sense of self-responsibility) and relatedness (to their teacher and peers). Consequently, the policy can be viewed as a detraction from the latter two motivations in favor of profiting the first.

Nevertheless, a recent study by the University of Illinois suggests that continual use of social media throughout the day is linked to increases in anxiety and depression among young adults. In the midst of stress-inducing classes, homework assignments, and extracurricular demands, the AHS administration opted to executively take action in reducing one added distraction – a notable one at that – from the school day.