PA HB 363: If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Ban ‘em!

Folks were all a-Twitter today about the newly-proposed legislation in Pennsylvania, PA House Bill 363.  My colleagues & fellow Pennsyltuckians Dan Callahan and Jimbo Lamb have already written about the implications of this bill, but the SparkNotes version is that the bill mandates that

cellular telephones and portable electronic devices that record or play audio or video material shall be prohibited on school grounds, at school sponsored activities and on buses or other vehicles provided by the school district.

Read the full text of the bill.

I’ve written before about how I think mobile phones can be useful in educational settings, and feeling as I do, I decided to write my state representative, Hon. Marguerite Quinn.  Below is a copy of the letter I sent:

Dear Representative Quinn:

I don’t make a habit of writing to government officials, but this evening I feel I must reach out to you as my state representative.  I am a former high school English teacher and current school psychologist, and I am also a parent of soon-to-be school-age children.  As both a parent and educator, I am deeply disturbed by the introduction of PA House Bill No. 363, which, in effect, would place a state-wide ban on electronic devices in classrooms.  The wording of the bill (as I understand it) makes the following prohibited on school grounds: “cellular telephones and portable electronic devices that record or play audio or video material”.

While the bill does make allowances for students with potential family medical emergencies and students who are members of a volunteer fire or rescue squad, my primary concerns about this bill are as follow:

* Although I disagree in principle with banning these devices, I believe the decision to ban them, in part or in whole, should be made at the local level, with appropriate provisos relevant to the local school & community culture

* Banning “portable electronic devices that record or play audio or video material” will effectively outlaw the use of laptop, tablet, and netbook computers in schools.  These devices are often used by students to create multimedia content for class projects, and are capable of not only recording, but also post-production and publication of student-generated work.

* Banning these devices wastes a prime opportunity to teach children about the appropriate use of a tool that many of them use regularly outside of school, and will use regularly after graduation.

Today’s mobile phones are less “just phones” and more like miniature computers; generally speaking, many mobile phones are capable of recording and publishing to the Web audio, video, and text content, at a much lower cost than full-blown digital video or still cameras.  More specifically, they can be used as digital field journals in science class (taking pictures and recording text or audio notes), performance recorders in English or drama class, calculators in math class, and survey responders (via text messaging) in any class (and at a much lower cost than commercial responder “clicker” kits).

As an educator, I can attest to the fact that personal electronic devices, when used inappropriately, can undoubtedly serve as disruptions in the classroom; however, banning them wholesale is not the answer.  This bill implies that the problem is with the technology itself, rather than the inappropriate use of it.  Teaching safe, appropriate use and integrating technological tools into well-constructed lessons will ultimately serve our children better.

Mobile phone technology has great educational potential.  I invite you to peruse any of the following websites to learn more about what innovative educators are doing with mobile technology:

http://www.cellphonesinlearning.com/
http://www.edutechie.com/2007/06/8-ways-to-use-camera-phones-in-education/
http://www.slideshare.net/satonner/mobile-phones-in-education-constructive-not-deconstructive-124979/
http://www.math4mobile.com/index.html
http://horizonproject.wikispaces.com/mp+impact+on+education

I strongly urge you to oppose this bill and prevent our children from being denied educational and personal growth opportunities like the ones described at the above websites.  I am also available to you at the phone number listed below if you would like to discuss the importance of defeating this bill.

Very truly yours,

Damian N. Bariexca, Ed.S., NCSP
(xxx) xxx-xxxx

Yes, there are much bigger problems facing our schools than this.  No, I don’t think this is the be-all end-all.  The responsible use of technology in education is, however, an issue about which I am passionate, and I just don’t see any good coming from a state-wide ban.  Hell, when I was in the eighth grade, I was stabbed in the back of the neck with a pencil; I didn’t see any legislation coming out banning pencils in schools, and that was much more detrimental to my physical, emotional, and educational well-being than anything a cell phone could ever do.  It’s not the tool, people; it’s how we use it.

Last thing: while I’ve never been one to believe in the power of online petitions and such, if you’re interested in discussing this issue or sharing resources with other PA educators, check out the Facebook group.

6 comments

  1. Pingback: geek.teacher » Blog Archive » Bad, evil, naughty law!
  2. jsb16

    Do you think being stabbed in the neck with a pencil was more traumatic than having your reaction recorded and posted to YouTube would have been?

    I’m not saying that this bill would make a good law. It seems like hitting a a gnat with a steam shovel. But the potential for students to misuse video and audio recording technology is serious. Are schools in PA explicitly allowed to confiscate and inspect all such devices if there’s evidence of misuse under current law?

  3. damian

    I agree that the potential for misuse is serious, but there are far more reasonable measures you can put into place to address that stuff. I’m not advocating a “Wild West”, anything goes a/v free-for-all, just some common sense. When my students weren’t using their cell phones for a specific purpose (which amounted to a very small percentage of time, in my case), they were to be put away. That also went for anything that wasn’t relevant to what we were doing, including calculators, social studies homework, physics textbooks, and college applications (I taught English). That seems more like a classroom management or responsible use issue to me than anything else.

    I live in PA, but don’t work here, so I can’t speak to your last question. In NJ, some schools do have confiscation policies (my previous school did, for example), but I don’t know what the law says about inspecting devices for content in either state. Anyone?

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  6. Colette Decker

    I don’t feel that cell phones should be banned, I feel they are safety links between home and the student. If you are working with our students, you should be willing to have your actions recorded. I know as a staff member of the school systems we are watched everyday. I have also been taught that if I know what I am doing is correct and morally responseable then I shouldn’t have any problem with whatever is being recorded. I was also told not to write anything down that I didn’t want someone else to read. So the recording and our actions should follow the same thought. Don’t do or say anything you don’t want to be held against you, also noting comments on facepages from teachers. I feel though that the pencil problem is a bigger issue and something should be done with these sharp little minature arrows allowed out on our childrens buses. These are more harmful than any phone could ever be!!!

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