No cellphones in school classes an easy call: Chicago Sun-Times editorial

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Children, gather ’round and hear of days of old when boys and girls did not have cellphones in classrooms.

These were challenging times requiring fortitude and stamina. If a child at school had to call home in an emergency, he or she would have to ask to use a phone in the administrative offices or, perhaps, seek out a payphone.

Somehow, the children struggled through.

We certainly would not want today’s children, or their families, to be forced to return to those brutal days. We think there’s a place for cellphones in schools — in lockers and backpacks. But we firmly side with those schools that want to limit, or even ban, the use of cellphones in classrooms, with few exceptions.

Classrooms should be all about learning.

A small percentage of students legitimately require the use of a cellphone at all times. They might need to use an app on their cellphone to adjust their hearing aids, for example, or to monitor their insulin levels.

But as a general rule, cellphones in the classroom are all about distractions.

As Nader Issa reported on Wednesday in the Sun-Times, the debate over smartphones in schools is heating up as more students bring them. Studies show they impede learning, and schools, cities and whole countries are passing laws to limit them.

A study in the Journal of Communication Education, Issa reported, found that students who did not use cellphones in class “wrote down 62% more information in their notes, took more detailed notes, were able to recall more detailed information from the lecture, and scored a full letter grade and a half higher on a multiple choice test than those students who were actively using their mobile phones.”

A University of Chicago study concluded that the mere presence of a cellphone — turned off — can be distracting and “undermine both learning and test performance.”

As administrators at Oak Park and River Forest High School, which for the time being allows cellphones in classrooms, warned parents this year, “social media is designed to addict.”

In France, cellphones are banned in middle schools. Ontario is imposing new restrictions. Two middle schools in suburban Oak Park have banned cellphones. And principals in the Chicago Public Schools are free to ban cellphones in the classroom — and we’re inclined to think more of them should.

Restricting cellphones to backpacks and lockers creates a little more inconvenience for students and parents.

But that inconvenience is greatly outweighed by what matters most — classroom learning.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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