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« Turtles, Turtles, Turtles, All the Way Down | Main | Rules for Pod People and a Proposal for Banning Pencils »

Rules for Pod People and a Proposal for Banning Pencils

Ex abusu non arguitur in usum. (The abuse of a thing is no argument against its use.)

One of the goals this year of our district tech advisory committee is to formulate guidelines for student-owned technologies. At yesterday’s meeting, I thought we’d start with an “easy” set of rules to create – those for the use of iPods and MP3 players. What possible reason could a school have for banning these things?

Well, I got a list (and earful) from the teachers and librarians on the committee…
  1. They might get stolen.
  2. They make kids who can’t afford them feel bad.
  3. Kids might listen to them instead of the teacher.
  4. Who knows what kinds of lyrics that the kids might be listening to!
  5. Kids might listen to test answers (There’s a stretch.)

Oh, sure, kids might use them to help them study, replay their French vocab lesson, or listen to audio books or an NPR broadcast – but really, what’s the chance of that?

The underlying argument was because of possible misuse, they should be banned - period.

(One of our students on the advisory board had the courage to say that he felt individual teachers should have the right to say whether iPods should be allowed in their classrooms, and added that he concentrates better in study hall and the library when his music drowns out other distractions.)

I gotta say that this “potential misuse” as a reason for banning technologies drives me nuts. If we applied this rationale for not allowing a technology to an old, familiar technology, we’d certainly have to ban pencils from school because:
  1. A student might poke out the eye of another student.
  2.  A student might write a dirty word with one. Or even write a whole harassing note and pass it to another student.
  3. One student might have a mechanical pencil making those with wooden ones feel bad.
  4. The pencil might get stolen or lost.
  5. Kids might be doodling instead of working on their assignments.

Oh, sure, kids might actually use them to take notes or compose a paper - but really, what’s the chance of that?

I cringe whenever I hear a district or school “banning” cell phones, blogging software, e-mail, flash drives, chat, game sites, etc. Each of these technologies has positive educational uses. Each of these technologies is a big part of many kids’ lives outside of school. And yes, each of these technologies has the “potential” for misuse.

One of my biggest worries has always been that by denying access to technologies that students find useful and meaningful within school, we make school less and less relevant to our Net Genners. When are we going to learn to use the kids devices for their benefit rather than invent excuses to outlaw them?

Is there a sensible policy for iPod use?
Doug, we did have an incident with an iPod during midterms last year (girl hid the wires with her long hair and sweatshirt), and she *was* listening to answers. I think that iPods can add value to a learning environment, but should be banned during exams because they can provide a cheat sheet (or whatever we’re calling the modern equivalent!).

Pencils, on the other hand, could lead to pens and markers and should just be burned before they enter a school building.

Comment by Laura — September 29, 2005 @ 5:31 am

A “study hall only at the discretion of the teacher” policy is rather reasonable. Cell phones off and not seen is also reasonable. Kids (and their parents) who know the rules, are bringing expensive electronic equipment to school, and then don’t follow the rules for them and then gripe about it are NOT reasonable. Teachers who only sit at their desk during exams are following the “don’t do dumb things” rule…Laura’s teacher who caught the student with the iPod was probably paying attention.

Comment by Sara — September 29, 2005 @ 7:01 am

The whole ipod thing is just another silly thing that schools like to band. I for one like to listen to music when I’m reading or doing work. But can we have portable cd player no why cause it might get stolen or you listen to music that has cusing in it. Anything can be dangeruos or stolen or used like library books, desk, the teachers telphone that they use to call the office those are just some things. If you bring it to school then that is asking to get stolen and you now that so why band anything in the first place. Example for anything bieng a wapon my friend hit a person with his bag because that person was saying they were a fairy so he swung his bag and hit that preson. So see bags should band too

Comment by Alex Wilcox — September 29, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

We are concerned about students and They are putting out way too much information about themselves including age (under 15) location, school and private pictures, often revealing.
What do you think about this. Myspace is blocked at school, but in my freshman orientations I find about a 3rd of our students having accounts in my space.

Comment by Adam Janowski — September 29, 2005 @ 5:05 pm

First, the cell phones “off and not heard or seen” reminds me of my classroom gum chewing policy - you can chew all the gum you want so long as I don’t see it, hear it, smell it. Seemed to work.

Adam’s question is a good one. My sense is that Adam’s school is losing a lot of “teachable moments” by denying access to myspace - chances to talk about the dangers of revealing too much information online. Who counsels and coaches when kids access this space from home? Doesn’t sound like parents are. Kids WILL have access to these tools. Don’t we have an obligation to help them use it safely rather than simply blocking it and saying “it’s not my problem?”

Comment by Doug Johnson — September 29, 2005 @ 8:18 pm

I think you have the cart before the horse here. Could you first set down any educational reasons FOR having these devices in a school?
Also, in reviewing your opening list of “objections” I could not find ONE that has not already occurred at our school! I see these tech toys in the same category as Matchbox Cars, hacky sacks and Game Boys … they go into backpacks when entering the building, get locked into lockers, and may be taken out to play with on the way out of the building. Jon

Comment by jon elliott — October 3, 2005 @ 7:23 am

Hi Jon,

You make an excellent point. The constructive uses of any technology should be considered before looking at a ban. Apparently, Princeton U must have done so before giving iPods to all its incoming freshman. (Although I’ve heard this has been scaled back.

How are these (from The Digital Backpack, Threshold, Fall 2005)

- Record and playback teacher instructions
- Download a foreign-language broadcast or NASA science lesson
- Listen while reading to improve comprehension
- Help focus in a noisy room
- Compare recordings of a musical selection
- Store portfolio

I appreciate your comment and perspective,


Comment by Doug Johnson — October 3, 2005 @ 8:00 am

Lest we forget that the iPod is like any other mass storage device? In addition to music, DATA files can not only be listened to, but read outright during exams. My feeling is they don’t belong in an exam environment — and probably not in most classroom situations.

Proprietary right/responsibility to the distibution of educational data and, perhaps most importantly, it’s medium, is a great big bug-a-boo in the years to come!

Comment by Kelley Lanahan — October 4, 2005 @ 8:27 pm

Schools’ knee-jerk reaction to ban any new technology that students understand better than administration, is reflective of other authoritarian groups’ responses to perceived threats. This uproar reminded me of the lawsuit brought by Universal and Disney against Sony Corp over the legality of the Betamax. The Supreme Court was asked to impound all Betamax VCRs as tools of “piracy”. As we all know, the court decided not to outlaw the machines, and schools, not to mention movie studios, have certainly benefited from the many legal and positive uses of this technology. Like with all technology, not to mention everything else in life, it’s a matter of selecting the right tools and using them appropriately.


Comment by annette — October 7, 2005 @ 11:54 am

I completely agree that CD players and IPODs should be allowed in schools during certain times. I listen to mine during study and I have found that I get my work done much faster and dont notice the outside world much. The kids I know are smart enough not to listen to music during a class. I think that it should be up to the teachers. I mean, listen to the way we kids talk anyway. we dont speak nicely at all to eachother. So us listening to music with supposed bad lyrics isnt bad. At least kids dont play it out loud. Should schools ban singing in class too?? Because I happen to sing in class when Im bored. Cd players and IPODs take up downtime. After a test or quiz when we still cant move or talk, you pull out music and you wont be talking to people around you. It just doesnt make sense to ban them.

Comment by Katie — October 24, 2005 @ 3:00 pm

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Reader Comments (26)

Love the post, Doug. I proposed a very similar arguement some years back when we were revising our Computer Use Policy. I loaded it into Word and with some quich search and replace work, I had drafted our district's new three page pencil and paper policy.;->

November 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterArt Wolinsky
In junior high band back in the 50s I turned around and stabbed annoying Tommy T. in the leg with a pencil. The pencil point broke off in his leg. I never got in trouble, but since then I've become dubious when I hear warnings about the dangers of technology. I love your post and hope to try to bring some sense to these discussions in my school, where I'm the librarian and am trying to help us adults get in touch with what are doing.
November 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJane Hyde
I used to have a wooden HB pencil of my own.But one day,this new kid showed up in our classroom with a really nice mechanical pencil!I was so jealous.I had to tell someone about this revolutionary crayon.i decided to tell my girlfriend Michelle about his new pencil just to find out a week later that she had dumped me for Mr.Mechanical!I felt the shame.I need that pencil! -Milton
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMilton Neudeck
Hey its me again, Milton, I just wanted to say I'm feeling so mush better now. and ever since I broke up with that Michelle girl,I've never felt better.I just bought a 12 pack of wooden HB pencils and they work great.I really wanted a mechanical one but I didn't have enough money.I heard that those mechanical pecils aren't that great anyways that guy who stole my girlfriend got a zero on his last test because he ran out of led for his special pencil.At least I know when mine is almost finished.I could have offered him one of my wooden HB pencils but I wanted to see him suffer like I did. -Milton
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMilton Neudeck
I strongly disagree with the statement that iPod's should be banned from school because I too take my iPod to school and you know what it's not a bad thing it's actually a very good thing. The reasons are the following:

1) they aren't used during class so they don't distrupt anything.

1) They aren't used during class so they don't disrupt anything.

2) Let's say you need to take a file to school so you can download it in your iPod and take it to school and download it in a school computer.

3) Music allows people to express themselves. I mean, don't you wear you're style of clothing? I sure do but I can't express my self in school because my school is a private school so we have to wear uniform but outside of school I express myself through clothes and music and the way I talk.

4) Usually this banning thing starts when one student does something extremely idiotic and then the school decides that they are going to ban that specific thing from school. But just because one person isn’t mature enough to handle a situation then it doesn’t men we all have to suffer.

5) Lots of teachers have them too so they shouldn’t be allowed to either.

6) People fear that they might get stolen in school but a school isn’t a good school if you can’t trust your own students to respect other people’s belongings.

7) Teachers think that we might listen to inappropriate lyrics but really don’t you think we are mature enough to realize what we hear sometimes should not be spoken?

8) Music helps to concentrate on work that they should be doing rather that hearing voices around them that will distract them to look and pay attention to other people.
March 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAditi Uppal
yeah what that dude said about the penciles is what i think
April 20, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterwased
i think ipods should be able to be at school for tests because hello its not like people actually listen to the teacher i mean they do something better.
April 20, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterwased
if students want to listen to music they should be able to. what would u do if you were bored. duh!
April 20, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterwased
you'd probably like this, if you haven't seen it already


April 22, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrob
I think we should be encouraging the use of Ipods at school instead of banning them. Yes, most students view them as simply a "jukebox" to store and play music, but as educators, we have the opportunity to illustrate educational ways in which these devices can be used.

The argument that they (Ipods, laptops, PDAs, etc.) can be misused by students and distract from class is overused. Any "tool" can be used against its purpose or usefulness. A hammer is made to use on nails, but it can (and has) been used to kill people. Does this mean we should ban all hammers? Wouldn't it be better to just teach people how to use it appropriately?
April 23, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterastephens
yea i completely agree, music really helps me when im workng on homework at home, im working on a paper thats persuading the schoolboard to allow music in school, ue website really helped thanks!
May 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrebrew576
i really agree with the pencil guy that got jealous of that one guys mechanical pencil. i dont think that mechanical pencils should be allowed in school because all they do is cause preblems and make people jealous of other people. i think that they are very dangerous too. i mean some one if they had a really big mechanical pencil could hide a switchblade in their mechanical pencil, and then once someone says something mean to them the OOPS theyre gone. they are also dangerous, because the clicker things in them could backfire and shoot you in the eye. or someplace else that wouldnt feel very good. i also thinnk that we should ban staplers too. they are very dangerous becasue people could shoot them at you. i dont think paper should be allowed either becaue you could get a really bad paper cut and then it would get infected and grow fungus on it and then they would have to cut your arm off. well thats all i ahve to say aobut taht
May 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNikki Chapstick
i totally agree with that. becasue i like smores. an
May 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMarcia
i totally diasagree with banning ipods at school cause i listen to mine when i do my homework and i get it done alot faster cause i dont get distracted with the sounds around me.
May 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterme
its me again and i hate when they bann ipods at school
May 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterme
i think banding ipods at school is the worst thing someone can do i mean they exppect us to be responceable enough to not do drugs @ skool but not to keep trak of ower possesions
May 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHJGYGHGKHGK
I disagree with the banning of the Ipod. i listen to mine at school just to get my homework done. i never do my homework without it. its like the missing peice of my body that i need to accomplish something good in my life.
May 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJustin D.
I dont have one but when i use my friends it really cool, and i think it would be stupid to ban them. Just have the teacher check them or something when theres a test but dont ban them. thats stupid.
May 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJosh M
about the ipod during the test issue....duh. make the kids take out all their ipods and cell phones and put them on a table or a box or something. its not that diffuclt, guys. ipods and cell phones should not be banned. how do you reach your parents after school if you need to stay for tutorial or sports practice? my mother assumes i'm dead in a ditch if i don't call her after school, and now you want to take away my ONLY flippin form of communication? NO! there's way to have ipods and cell phones during school. teachers and people at school encourage responsibility and all that, but wait! they don't let you have an ipod beause you might lose it. so much for encouraging responsability.
June 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfor those about to mep
i also forgot to mention the whole 'explicit lyrics' deal. WHO GIVES A CRAP whether we listen to explicit lyrics or not? who made it the teacher's business? who made it anyone's business except your own? Hell, my parents don't care, but my teacher does? ok...sure. Next they'll have the teacher look thru your artists to make sure you're not listening to explicit lyrics. Its a form of free expression. I already have to wear a uniform, which greatly diminishes the whole free expression thing, but now we don't get ipods or cellphones, which is just awesome, isn't it?
June 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfor those about to mep
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