Instead of cell phones, ban disruption

December 1, 2010 •

Recently we commented on an interesting study by Charles Kerchner and Laura Mulfinger that provided keen insights into teacher-run schools.

One of the observations of the paper was that while school and instructional models vary, the behavior of teacher-run schools—the way students and teachers work, the ways that the schools function—tend to differ from traditionally-managed schools.

Take this excerpt, on cell phones:

All high schools have issues with cell phones, and many ban them some going to far as to collect the phones from students when they enter school in the morning and return them when they leave. Then they spend adult time trying to ferret out those clever students who have a second, undisclosed phone. At Avalon [a project-based, teacher-run school], cell phones are a learning tool. “I have had students use their phones for presentations or to retrieve information from the Internet as a part of a class discussion,” said [a teacher].”
It’s not that cell phones were not an issue. [The Student Congress, with rule-making authority for the school] discussed them at length, and at the end it decided that the problem was not the phones themselves but the disruption they sometimes caused to learning. So rather than ban phones, Congress banned disruption…

The student congress of Avalon is an extension of the school’s democratic character. The congress acts as the legislative branch of the school constitution, and the teachers as the executive branch (with veto power).

This anecdote is a shimmer of light that indicates the way things are now in public schooling—intractable as some challenges seem to be—can change. ‘School’ can be something completely different…can be re-imagined.

And, the students and the teachers may be some of the best-positioned people to contribute to the rethinking.

Here’s Kerchner’s study again: