For one day this past week, the 9th graders experienced the loss of their cell phones. This came as a surprise to the students, who arrived for school expecting it to be the same as any other day; their English teachers gathered them together in groups upon their arrival, boxes in hand. These boxes became the cell phone collection boxes, and the hallways were soon filled with the voices of fifty-nine 9th graders who spoke in indignation, anger and amusement, as their younger and elder peers looked on.
Ninth grade English teachers, Kata Solow, Laura Gill and Liz Kim, describe the ideas that went into the 9th grade experience of a one day cell phone ban: This Fall, in the 9th grade, we are reading Ray Bradbury’s prescient novel, Fahrenheit 451. In the society portrayed in the novel, books are banned, seized, and burned, and the inhabitants of the society are addicted to technology. Even though Bradbury wrote F451 in 1953, his exploration and portrayal of peoples’ relationship with technology as well as our need for meaningful, reciprocated relationships makes the novel feel as if it could have been written yesterday. We ultimately chose F451 for its relevance to our students lives (not to mention our own) as well as its challenging language and subject matter. We want our students to be challenged as readers, but we also want them to enjoy what they read and be able to relate to it.
We decided to take away cell phones for the day for similar reasons. We wanted to continue to push students to relate what they were reading to their own lives and have them undergo the experience and shock of having something taken away for a reason other than punishment. Moreover, though, we wanted to challenge them to think about and reflect on their (and our!) dependence on technology. It’s one thing to talk about how much you’re addicted to texting during a class discussion, but it’s a completely different experience to be forced to go through the day without texting at all.
We notified parents the day before about our plan (and asked them not to tell their children), and the responses we got were one hundred percent positive. I can’t even begin to count the number of emails we got asking us to keep the cell phones permanently. One family that was out of town on Friday decided to institute their own cell phone ban on their trip. Student response was (understandably) slightly less positive. There were a lot of shocked faces and wide eyes and “why are you doing this to us”-es. In English class, after allowing students to air their grievances, we talked about why we took away their technology, how it felt to have something taken away and to go a day without a cellphone, and what their reactions meant.
We’ll definitely be doing this activity again next year, so watch out 8th graders!
The reactions of the students spanned a wide range, starting with the downright melodramatic, Quincy Fuller: When the phone and iPad tragedy occurred, I felt outraged and betrayed. When I walked into the ninth grade area, it was like entering a void of darkness. Words could not describe my dismay and disappointment in the people who claim to be the higher authorities.
On the opposite spectrum from Quincy was 9th grader, Colin Trinity, who had a much calmer and less concerned reaction: It [the cell phone ban] was so funny, because everyone was freaking out and I just did not care at all because I never use my phone. I only use it to update my parents because I’m just not really into that whole social media and texting thing. So I could not care less but everyone else was freaking out. They were talking about overthrowing the faculty and staff! They basically proved that they could not handle a day without a phone.
Freshman Ben Kaunitz described the experience as neither enjoyable nor horrible, so much as unsettling: It made me feel really uncomfortable, like, constantly, because I would keep reaching for it and it wouldn’t be there. It’s not like I use it a whole lot for games and stuff like that during the day even though I do a little bit, but just little things like being able to check the time instantly, and being caught up on the world. It was really unsettling.
Ben’s classmate, Shelby Trible, shared his views, as did a majority of the 9th grade class: I thought it was an awful experience. I’m one of those people who doesn’t know how to tell time without my phone.
What did you miss most about not having your phone?
Shelby: Having it [provides] a secure feeling. It’s… I don’t think it would [have been] as bad if I had lost [my phone] but knowing someone had it and I couldn’t was really hard.
Despite the varied reactions of the students, their teachers felt that such an experience was a positive one for the students to have, and they plan on repeating it again next year with their next group of English students.
— Kata Solow, Laura Gill and Liz Kim