Anderson County (Tennesee) Public Schools have recently banned iPods on all school campuses and even on school buses. According to an article from April 13th from a Knoxville TV station:

Supporters of the resolution, which passed unanimously, say students walking down school halls with headphones on are a distraction and that students need to be aware of their surroundings.

My question for these school board members is: Are you aware of your cultural, economic, and technological surroundings? Who is really more situationally unaware here: the school board or the students? A year ago in the spring I participated in an educational law class collaborative project focusing on student cell phone use and district policies relating to cell phones, which vary considerably in Texas schools. Those banning cell phones in schools are close cousins to these Tennessee school leaders banning iPods.

As I continue to read (bit by bit, I admit) Virginia Postrel’s “The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress” I see more clearly the tension between the statist forces of control and opposition to change represented by many school leaders and the organizations they purportedly serve, and the dynamical forces of creativity and technological innovation, where students (generally) seem to line up as supporters.

What a contrast this story presents to Duke University’s iPod and podcasting program (The Duke Digital Initiative.) At Duke, incoming freshmen are issued an iPod and expected to use it as a content access device. They can also use it to create and share content with a $25 microphone add-on. I understand that technologies can be potentially disruptive in formal educational settings: This is why some Texas schools have banned cell phone use and even possession of cell phones by students. However, is it better for schools to ban these devices or work with students and teachers to help them learn about their appropriate use? I think the latter approach has the long term interests of the students and the real ideals of education more in mind.

A normal response for many schools when it comes to disruptive technologies like iPods, cell phones, blogs, etc is “BAN THEM.” One school board member quoted in the TV news clip on this cited fears that students would put pornography on their iPods. Did you catch that word? “FEARS.” My first question is, have any students put pornography on their iPods that they have brought to school? If so, how many? What percentage of students bringing their iPods to school are bringing porn? Evidently, these questions were not even considered by the board, because they are acting on FEAR rather than FACTS or long term interests of children. According to the same article:

School officials say they’ve had no instances of pornography coming onto school grounds by way of a video iPod.

This news article is actually a bit confusing, because in the opening paragraph it indicates the school board has banned iPods from school campuses and buses:

Anderson County school board members voted on first reading to ban personal electronic devices like iPods from school grounds and even school buses.

The end of the article states that the ban is just for use in classrooms, however, which seems to contradict the initial paragraph:

It should be noted that although iPods are not allowed to be used during the teacher’s class, the school does not have a policy about them being on campus.

A good question for community members in Anderson County, Tennessee to ask their school board members is, “How are our teachers and school leaders working to prepare students for success in life in the 21st century?” (Note this question did not ask about “school,” because preparing students for success in school is not necessarily equivalent to preparing students for success in life in many places today.)

The paraphrased answer community members are likely to receive from their school board, sadly, is probably “We’re not. We’re still using the same instructional models and strategies that we endured in the 1950s, and since we had to survive them, we figure kids today should face the same situations. Plus it’s hard to change teachers and schools, so we just figure we’ll preserve the good ‘ole status quo, put our heads in the sand, and when asked by television reporters about our current cultural environment, just lament how bad things are and what ardent strides we are taking to ban cultural influences in our school district.”

Our kids deserve better. Mine do and so do yours.

Practically speaking, Anderson County voters may want to give their school board members a printed copy of Doug Johnson’s proposal for banning pencils. After all, if we want to protect students in our schools, we better get to work immediately getting those sharp, stealable, and distracting graphite dispensers out of every classroom in our nation.

Thanks to Eric Langhorst for posting and podcasting on this situation last week.

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On this day..

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8 Responses to Reactionary, statist school leaders ban iPods

  1. David Stone says:

    How ironic! I just ordered 60, 30 Gigabyte MP3 players (Creative Zen Vision:M FOR OUR STUDENTS at our school. Hello?
    BTW, I am very pro apple but the Creative Vision:M PC alternative is far superior, particularly for PC users (although I don’t care too much for the whole “Zen” marketing.)
    I think the issue is EDUCATION (more irony)! Yes, we now have to educate our school board, administrators, parents, etc. that an mp3 player is a vehicle, and/or tool. A vehicle used in an appropriate way can exponentially educate an individual, and it can also be detrimental if used in an inappropriate way. So is a gun. “Anderson County” saw something “dangerous” and ran. A car can be dangerous and “disruptive”…have they banned cars in Anderson County yet?
    David Stone

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    Good for you, David! Hopefully Anderson County is the exception rather than the rule around the country. Did you look at the iRiver as another option? I’d love to hear how this project goes for you all, best of luck!

  3. Robert says:

    Word up on your post. A trackback will be coming your way shortly.

    Curious: The quote from the first paragraph of the newspaper article says that the school system will be banning “personal electronic devices like iPods”. Does that include devices such as PDA’s, which are arguably quite useful for keeping track of assignment due dates and so forth, will be banned? Or how about convergence devices like the Treo, which combine the functionality of some devices that would be banned and others which would not? For that matter, what about laptops or tablet PC’s, which could be used for listening to music while on the bus? It sounds to me that the school board is simply making a lay figure out of the iPod and in actuality they have no idea what it is they are trying to do, or even what the problem is they are trying to solve.

    I’ve said it before on my blog: There’s a disturbingly large number of school administrators and board members who would rather CONTROL students than EDUCATE them.

  4. […] In the same vein as this post on blog-banning, Moving at the Speed of Creativity has this story of a Tennessee school system that will soon be banning iPods from school property, including campuses and buses. From the news report: Supporters of the resolution, which passed unanimously, say students walking down school halls with headphones on are a distraction and that students need to be aware of their surroundings. […]

  5. Mike Muir says:

    Wes – I’m not surprised. I think fear is a common reaction to new things that people don’t really understand. I wrote about fear as a reaction to innovation near the end of Do Something Disruptive, and earlier in Policy Choices and New Tools: to Block or not to Block in the 1to1 Stories Project. Based on the blogs I follow, here are my bookmarks on fear of disruptive technologies (as you could guess, a lot of articles about MySpace).

    On the other hand, about a month ago, I had dinner with Gary Brown, IT Director for the Woolongong Diocese of Australia (that’s about 125k kids – we get folks from all over to see Maine’s laptop initiative. He has a different approach. At a meeting students and faculty at one of his schools, he asked the teachers how many of them had or knew someone who had a MySpace account (a few hands) then asked the kids the same question (all the hands). His reaction? He turned to the faculty and said that they did not understand their students!

    At his schools, about 95% of the students had cell phones. Did they ban their use? No. They purchased a system to push school announcements out to the phones. Some of the teachers use them for quizzes (kind of like the “clicker” student response systems). Now 100% of their students have cell phones. Their cell phone abuse rate? According to Gary, 0%.

    Why? I suspect because instead of fearing a new technology he did not understand, he noticed that it was a tool used by his students, found out how it might be used for academic, or at least school, uses, and implemented them.

    In Maine, we find that there is more breakage and off-task computer use when the teachers don’t use them for academic purposes. Ironically, when we use them regularly for academic purposes, the machines stay in good working order and kids actually do homework during homework time, instead of whipping through their homework as fast as they can so they can surf the web.

  6. […] Finally from Mike for this week is Fear and Disruptive Technologies in which he references good old Wes Fryer (well, he had to feature somewhere, didn’t he?!) in which the latter bemoans the ‘reactionary, statist’ leaders of schools who have banned the use of iPods and other gadgetry students carry around with them everywhere nowadays. Interestingly, Mike mentions a conversation with Gary Brown, an Australian regional IT Director who had a rather different view from these American school leaders: At his schools, about 95% of the students had cell phones. Did they ban their use? No. They purchased a system to push school announcements out to the phones. Some of the teachers use them for quizzes (kind of like the “clicker” student response systems). Now 100% of their students have cell phones. Their cell phone abuse rate? According to Gary, 0%. […]

  7. […] I'm catching up on some old links here. Both Wes Freyer and Robert Talbert point to a story out of Tennessee about a school board banning iPods in school. The quote about kids potentially carrying pornography on their iPods is pretty amusing. Of course that's a possibility, good grief! So is carrying a dirty mag in your backpack! Shut down the schools for decontamination now! Wipe out all student memory! […]

  8. […] Put this story alongside this one, and you get an amusing/perplexing look at the mixed signals being sent by schools about technology. […]

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