This is a guest post from Amber Kane. She is a creativity educator and textile designer.

Summer is coming to an end. Teachers have prepared their rooms and are sitting in painful in-service meetings, while students scour local stores for way-too-many back to school supplies.

For the first time in 25 years, I will not be doing any of that.

After teaching in the public school system for 8 years, I resigned.

I didn’t walk away from teaching because I don’t believe in learning, or because I can’t stand students.

I quit because school systems make so many decisions that are not based on what is best for the student. Instead, they choose what is easier for the administration. Too many rules proclaim that they are designed to keep the students safe, but in fact are about creating ease for adults.

1. Limited Internet use.
Schools block all kinds of things like social media, blogs, YouTube—all in the name of keeping students safe. But shouldn’t students should be allowed, encouraged, supported, and shown how all those resources can be used safely? I’m sure it’s easier for schools to simply block everything rather than make an attempt to have honest conversations about what students encounter online.

2. Crazy discipline cycle.
After school detention, Saturday detention, in-school Suspension—all rarely address or correct any issue, however, they are an easy way to pretend to discipline.

Here’s an example of how the discipline cycle works: Student is caught with their cell phone, he receives a one hour after school detention. (The detention usually takes place two weeks after the infraction occurs, which is like randomly grounding your kid two weeks after they did something wrong.) The student has an after school job, so they skip the one hour detention, which earns an after school two hour detention. Since they couldn’t attend the one hour, they clearly can’t attend the two hour, but no one cares really, so the student skips the two hour, which lands them in In School Suspension(ISS).

To fulfill the ISS, the student is pulled out of all of their classes for a day and made to sit in a very small room, usually without windows, and pretty much do nothing. Sometimes teachers will send work for them to do; however, they usually fall behind.)

In this example, a student had their phone out in class, and in turn ended up missing at least a full day of class. Does this really seem like it has the student’s best interest in mind?

The discipline cycle is about power and ease, not about the student and what he or she needs.

3. No cell phones.
While some schools are starting to loosen up on their cell phone policies and allow students to text during lunch, the usual response to students with cell phones in schools is what you’d expect if someone walked into your home with a grenade in hand.

Schools are afraid that students might take videos or pictures of things that they don’t want them to share. Or that they might cheat on a test. Instead, schools should strive to remove teachers doing things that they would be ashamed to have on video. They should have open discussions about phone use, and students should be allowed to use them on a test. When in the world do people not just look things up on the internet?

4. No backpacks.
This rule was first implemented back when I was in high school (over 15 years ago) in response to the Columbine school shooting. I’ve never fully understood the rule, as students are permitted to walk into the building with as many backpacks and bags as they wish but they are simply not allowed to use said backpacks or bags during the school day. All backpacks must remain in their locker, and all books carried by hand. To make things more confusing girls can carry purses of any size, as long as they aren’t meant to be worn on the back.

I’m guessing that you’re just as confused about this rule as myself and the students.

The no backpack rule is a way for schools to pretend to address the potential violence, rather that having to unpack and really examine why students bring guns to schools. It’s an easy, pretend solution to a complex problem.

5. Rules for good writing.
For a long time I believed that I couldn’t write. But the truth was that I can’t write when I’m given a topic that I don’t care about and told that I have to write three pages, exactly three pages, not one word less, not one word over.

All writing assignments come with a length requirement. It must be exactly 5 pages, double spaced in 12 pt Times New Roman Font. None of these rules help students become better writers, but they all make it easier for the teachers to grade. It’s easy to say “minus 5 points because you’re two sentences shy of 3 pages”, and “there goes another 5 points because you used the wrong font.”

When students wrote in my class, my rule was, “Get your point across in as few words as possible, as long as I can read the font I don’t care what it is, and select spacing that makes sense with your writing.”

55 replies
  1. Rayne
    Rayne says:

    Building maintenance is prized above children at our school in some ways. Gym shoes have to stay at school all year and if they accidentally are worn outside have to have the soles washed before being returned to school. Outdoor recess is only allowed in dry/good weather. Outdoor recess being confined to the blacktop if the playground is at all muddy or wet.

    On the topic of recess – there’s little to no cold weather recess because not everyone brings warm enough winter outerwear. I buy LL Bean coats for my boys with the highest warmth rating. Shouldn’t they get a choice of going outside for 20 minutes on cold days?

    • mh
      mh says:

      Rayne,

      Don’t be ridiculous. If children are permitted to choose what to do with the 20 minutes’ recess during their school day, where will it end?

      Pretty soon, you’ll have human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Washing the soles of shoes that are worn outside? Corralled onto a blacktop to stay clean? What sort of weird/ocd/germaphobe school is this?

      • Rayne
        Rayne says:

        Gym shoes with clean soles wear down the gym floor less. It’s a small school district with only two gymnasiums, so jr high and some hs sports are played in the elementary gym. When parents come for convocations, they cover the entire gym floor in some kind of heavy fabric. If the kids don’t get mud on their shoes on the playground, they can’t track it into the hallways and carpeted classrooms. That’s the rationale for these rules, but they drive me nuts.

        • Julia
          Julia says:

          I agree these kinds of rules can be maddening, but how do you feel about teaching kids to respect shared spaces and/or take care of limited resources?

          • mh
            mh says:

            Why not address it like grown-ups?

            1) our school district does not have resources to build enough athletic facilities for our students.

            2) in our view, middle school and junior high athletics are more important than allowing elementary school students to play at recess

            3) we are therefore implementing restricted recess — restricted to the blacktop, permanently.

            4) students must have a pair of new, clean shoes to be worn during school p.e. and left at school. The school is not responsible for the loss or theft of these shoes.

            5) any child arriving at school with dirty shoes will be required to remove them and attend classes without shoes for the day. The parents will be given a firm reminder on our clean-shoes policy and must dig that the acknowledge their student’s filthy habits.

            6) Go Team Spirit!

  2. Diana
    Diana says:

    Yes, unfortunately so much of what is done in public schools is around what’s best (simplest/easiest) for managing a population of children rather than what really creates an inspiring learning environment. Of course, creativity requires some degree of chaos.

    My question is, where is the balance between order and chaos so we don’t crush kids’ imaginations in the process?

    • mh
      mh says:

      An inspiring learning environment isn’t that important, since the kids hate being there anyway. Just teach them to read.

  3. Amy A
    Amy A says:

    There is method to The System’s madness. It can be frightening to dig into what exactly that is. But “convenience” I think is the aftermath of staff having to abide by strict rules and guidelines, and following absurd curriculum. And of course, crowd control is one of the main focuses in school. It is a factory-setting, more than anything.

    I agree with the firewalls and actually think internet doesn’t belong in school. Too many variables and approaches on internet usage and families’ desires. My older kid doesn’t want the radiation (etc.) exposure.

    I am so glad cell phones didn’t exist when I was growing up. But I have seen and heard some cell phone recordings done by students (One video recording was of a biased essay test, projected on a screen, which asked students if iPads/ Chromebooks should replace books, while the left side of the screen was a scrolling advertisement for said technology. The other audio recording was of a Principal telling the students their parents were basically clueless about specific things the students were debating The System about.)

    Does recording this stuff make a difference? What percentage of kids are using their phones to create changes in The System? Or to stay in communication with their families? Both of those are valid reasons, to me, to have cell phones in school and would keep it from feeling like a prison.

    If school taught strictly the facts, no “values”, no biased info with an agenda, it would be a more tempting option for self-motivated tweens and teens (and conscious parents). But it is so beyond messed up now. And with computers, kids can be fed so much BS without most people knowing, and without the kids having time and space to discern and filter what is coming at them.

    I think so much could change in school if parents didn’t see school as fill-in parenting: passing-of-the-baton. But rather a place for their kids to learn the “three Rs” (without the modern “tricks” to mess with the tried-and-true) and then get out. (And this would also be better for the school staff.)

    But then it isn’t hip anymore to learn the “three Rs” (partially due to the conditioning those of us under age 50 received in our own school careers).

    Congratulations for getting off that ride!

  4. Blackwalnut
    Blackwalnut says:

    Cell phones in the classroom are an incredible distraction, unless you have a classroom filled with mature students who have self control.

    As an English teacher, I generally agree with this author’s grievances about the way writing is taught in public school. It’s too formulaic.

    As for the other points…no backpacks, no cell phones,etc., these may be rules in her school or district, but why does she assume that they are universal rules? They are not.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Cell phones are an incredible learning tool. Why not let the kids teach the lessons based on what they’ve learned from their phones? Why do we still have so much teacher nar-nar going on in the school day? The most amazing educational materials are available, free of charge, at the touch of a screen.

      School is teacher-driven and boring. The whole concept needs to go.

      • Blackwalnut
        Blackwalnut says:

        Having students “teach wahat they learn on their phones” might sound like a nice idea, but keep in mind that most teens in public school use their phones as a social tool 99 percent of the time, not an educational tool.

        I am not disagreeing that public education is too teacher led and that homeschooling is far superior. And cell phones are useful in some applications, sure. But to imagine that classroom teachers should allow unlimited cell phone use, and that students will limit their cell phone use to educational applications, is incredibly naive.

        • mh
          mh says:

          Why shouldn’t the babysat respond to their environment appropriately? They are bored and being warehoused, and they know it.

          I’m fine with phones being used for collaboration, as well. Schools like to call this “cheating” and sometimes “plagiarism.”

          There is very little the system does well right now. Changing *anything* is likely to be an improvement, on balance.

          Just found out the native-born adult illiteracy rate in my state. Don’t tell me schools would be *fine* without the cell phones. They weren’t.

          • Blackwalnut
            Blackwalnut says:

            Whoever said schools would be fine without cell phones?

            But it’s pretty cynical to tell kids that “school is a prison anyway so just get out your phones and snapchat for 8 hours! That’ll show ’em!”

            Really, how does that help?

        • Amanda
          Amanda says:

          “Just found out the native-born adult illiteracy rate in my state. Don’t tell me schools would be *fine* without the cell phones. They weren’t.”
          Blackwalnut: maybe you should move out of Mississippi and that adult illiteracy rate might go up. : )
          Also, the reason teachers don’t like cell phones in school is because kids AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION. Not because teachers “aren’t doing their job.”

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Cellphones and other devices are amazing learning tools. As a teacher, you can either choose to progress, move forward and learn how to utilize such tools in your classroom, or you can continue to shun technology that is relevant to society in just about every single way. If cellphones are distractions in your classroom, then you aren’t doing your job right.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Wow, a condescending response from a teacher? I am shocked! Heh. No, I’m not really surprised.

          Many k12 teachers are starting to embrace using cellphones in their classrooms now, you might want to look into it.

          • Blackwalnut
            Blackwalnut says:

            Right, because saying “you aren’t doing your job right” isn’t condescending at all. I am a high school teacher and a homeschooling parent. I am well aware of the shortcomings of public education. I live it every day. I am sorry to tell you that technology will not solve the problems in public education. Recall the debacle in LA when they gave every kid an iPad. Gigantic waste of money.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Let me rephrase: If one finds that a cellphone causes distractions in a classroom, then the teacher isn’t doing their job right. Teachers should find ways to incorporate technology and be just as engaging or more so than the device so that students can be interested in what is taking place in the classroom. There are ways to successfully do this, as other teachers around the nation are finding ways to utilize cellphones as part of their classroom teaching.

          • Blackwalnut
            Blackwalnut says:

            Finding ways to incorporate cellphones into classroom instruction is swell. They can be a useful tool sometimes; like all tools, however, they are not suitable for every task.

            They are not much good for teaching kids to compose essays or analyze literature. I don’t think most professional writers compose their work on cell phones, would you agree?

            It seems that some in the unschooling movement believe that learning should always be “fun.” I disagree with this. Sometimes learning is arduous, and requires a student to put the toys away and dig in. I am not talking about turning learning into drudgery, the way public schools do sometimes. But if I am going to ask students to do something difficult — say, explain the structure of a famous speech — it’s tough to make that task interesting enough to compete with Instagram.

            Whether kids are learning at home or at a traditional school, there will be times that learning is hard, and yes, there will be times when they should turn off their cell phones and get down to business.

          • mh
            mh says:

            BW,

            I agree that learning is arduous and individualized task. I don’t think you’ll find any unschooling parents to disagree with you.

            I have a child, ten year old boy, who has always been interested in church organs. Now he wants to play them.

            He has found someone willing to instruct him.

            Yesterday he practiced three hours at home and had an hour-and-a-half lesson. He is starting from scratch and every success impels him forward.

            I have an older son that learned scientific writing that way: he wanted to compete in (and win) science fairs. He taught himself to write well in about two months.

            For what it’s worth, the internet is a vast wonderland of teaching resources. From organ technique to winning pointers to how to shoot free throws to countries and capital cities, we are living through a renaissance in education. What a great time to be a parent.

          • Kate
            Kate says:

            This got me thinking. I used to teach (briefly) so perhaps I’m just trying to make myself feel better but.. I think that I disagree… I sometimes ignore and bat away my 2yr old when I am scanning through to catch up on Instagram or trying to get to the end of a comment stream on a blog… (;-)) maybe I’m in the minority with that but frankly out Madonna walked down my street and I was reading a lively comment thread here or reading a pattern explanation on Ravelry I may only get a glimpse of her behind and then kick myself after ?.
            My point is- I don’t think any teacher can compete with the cellphone- and it’s not a fair expectation. ?

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            BW,

            I disagree with your assumption that unschoolers think all learning should be fun. I think that all learning should be meaningful to the individual, and not coerced. Learning can be meaningful while also being fun, but mostly it is meaningful, engaging, and hard work. When kids are coerced and forced into learning, how much of it actually means something to them? How long do they retain that information?

      • Julia
        Julia says:

        YMKAS, why are you so mean? Do you ever actually listen to people who disagree with you? You might learn something.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Why am I so mean? Huh?

          Yes I always listen to people who I disagree with, that doesn’t mean I accept what they say.

          Thank you for the lecture, Julia.

        • mh
          mh says:

          Julia,

          For real?

          “Mean?”

          Folks, I like reading and commenting here. I like interacting with smart, reasonable, funny, odd, and confident people.

          Calling people “mean” is ridiculous. Please don’t waste my time.

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      Blackwalnut, As a parent and a prior student, I am in agreement with you about cell phones.

      I am on the look out for a good, no-fluff hard-copy grammar textbook for studies and as a reference–for my kids and me.

      I asked my friend, an English professor, for her recomendations. She said she had no idea. She and her students just search the ‘net when they want to look something up. I was shocked. And disheartened.

      I am tech-savy with a computer tech degree. But I, like my coparent whose entire professional job is on a computer, see computers/technology as one tool. Not as the end-all.

      I am a mature adult with self-control, yet it is easy for me to get sucked in my cell phone. What keeps me from doing it isn’t so much self-control though; but having a clear vision for what I want for myself, my life and my family/relationships. I imagine it is hard for many children to see things that way; that is a lot to ask of those children then.

      So do we say, “Johnny, I know it is a lot to ask you to not be addicted to your phone. Instead of telling you to put it away, though, we will just find a way to incorporate it in class.”? This is the debate.

      Something important I have learned, and I am teaching my kids the same thing, is to keep a paper notebook in which I jot down things I want to do and look up on the internet. This (and consciously choosing not to have internet at home anymore) helps me consolidate my internet time and use my time wisely. This has tremendously helped me to feel in control of my time and choices–rather than being sucked in and mindlessly clicking.

      Once I started doing this, I found how little I actually _need_ the internet–that is liberating in-and-of-itself.

      I am glad to offer my kids a childhood with this same sense of freedom so they know what it feels like (And no, they don’t feel deprived or FOMO at all due to this; and yes, we are always communicating about all this. I read this blog and comments to them, etc.).

      • mh
        mh says:

        Amy A,

        Try “the random house guide to good writing” by Mitchell Ivers

        The “painless” series from Barron’s: painless writing, painless grammar, painless spelling.

        Also, “practice makes perfect English verb tenses up close” by Mark Lester. We used this when my kids got to the point in translating from German to English or Spanish to English and wanted it to be just right.

        Good luck!

      • Amber Kane
        Amber Kane says:

        It all goes back to conversations. My students and I discussed cell phone addiction. We talked about how they felt when using their phones, how they felt when they couldn’t, and if they thought that was healthy or good. We discussed how being on your phone ALL of the time keeps you from daydreaming, which is an important part of problem solving.

        • blackwalnut
          blackwalnut says:

          It’s nice to have that conversation. I think some kids are truly emotionally addicted to their phones. There was one girl who pretty much had a breakdown when an administrator took her phone away for the day.

          Here’s another little anecdote: I was teaching summer school and a kid couldn’t get off his phone. I called his mom and suggested she make him leave the phone at home. She asked me if I would please take the phone from him at school. That’s right, she couldn’t stand up to her own son and make a rule; but she wanted me to do it for her.

          Sorry, just a quick vent.

      • mg
        mg says:

        Random House is a classic, of course, but my recommendation would be Rules for Writers. It’s clearer and better organized. Once they feel comfortable with grammar, they might want to check out Willliams’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace.

    • Amber Kane
      Amber Kane says:

      Yes, they can be a distraction. I”m not advocating that students are on their phones all of the time. I’m advocating that schools acknowledge that cell phones can be used as powerful tools, and that we practice using them in that way. Schools should also strive to have honest conversations about when and why it’s appropriate to use cell phones.

      My students and I wrote our cell phone policy together every year. We developed when it was respectful and helpful to be on the phone and when it wasn’t. And we discussed what should be done if they choose to be disrespectful. I found that once we were having open, honest conversations, things went much smoother. Students didn’t feel a need to hide their phone under the desk, or ask to go to the bathroom in order to text.

      Cell phones are part of life. Attempting to say no cell phones doesn’t work. And giving students detention for using them makes no sense.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Amber,

        I completely agree with you, and I didn’t see you advocate for “cellphones all the time”. I read exactly what you wrote, using cellphones as tool. Students shouldn’t be punished for using technology. You sound like an awesome teacher.

        Thank you for sharing with us.

      • Kate
        Kate says:

        Yay! I think that is just the attitude i’d hope for if I was a pupil- respectful and non patronising discussion of the issue. I bet your classrooms had a mood of mutual respect generally- nice.

    • Amanda
      Amanda says:

      Well, apparently most parent’s “teaching methods” are plopping kids down in front of a screen anyways and all kids are “incredibly well behaved at home” so obviously the fact that teachers are FORCING these poor kids to stop looking at their phone and actually engage with the world around them is a preposterous thing to imagine.

  5. mh
    mh says:

    I think you could quickly cure a lot of problems in the schools if every classroom and teacher space had a camera live-streaming to the web. Solve many problems, instantly.

      • Adrianne
        Adrianne says:

        @YMKAS: Thank you for being part of the conversations here! I’m trying to get back into blogging, with a focus on learning (for kids and adults) – tutorials, how-tos, etc. – so as it grows, I’ll definitely stop by here to let folks know if anything applicable is added to the site. Many of the comments here – especially yours – have motivated me to focus the blog on more learning-focused topics. (I’ll still throw in the thoughtdoodles as they occur to me).

  6. Kate
    Kate says:

    I really enjoyed thinking about this and reading the comments- i think the idea of *teaching* students in schools effective or efficient (particularly in relation to time taken to get the info you want and how to stay out of getting horrendously diverted into side issues that are of little relevance to the question you are researching! My own problem frequently-) use of their phones -( it could be Beyond Wikipaedia class?) is a really useful thing to do in school. Where can you find academic papers.. Research papers… The journals relating to whatever the area is written by people who are at the top of their field- where can we find a direct link to their thinking? It’s so valuable. Heck I’d take the class- :-)
    Equally I think it would be impossible to relax rules about phones- if students have free access to their phones o think the class setting as a whole would become untenable.
    I think that there is some talk generally (in the web circles I read in!) of the issues around self regulation online- in that it’s a huge time suck often. And that staring into the screen becomes a hard habit to break and even seems to happen too much (as defined by the individual re. Their own use- not an external judge) despite a person being aware of trying ‘use’ less. I think it’s a hard beast to tame, or to master (flounders around for reasonable analogy…) and to expect kids to do it when many adults who WANT to cannot, is a bit silly. I’m rambling I’m afraid- I will stop. I’d just like to see schools address this stuff. In a real way. Blanket ‘grenade’ policy will only deepen the rift between kids and the institution.
    But actually- I think it’s more an illustration of how out of date as a concept the institution of school as we know it is, that it cannot support or find a way to operate in synchronicity with the technology that we have. I’m wondering almost, and it scares me a little as this occurs to me because it cannot be true can it…? That there may be ‘no point’ in testing on the dates of the Kings & Queens or Ezra Pounds opinions of TS Eliot or the periodic table or a bit of Latin (or explaining the processes of coastal erosion etc etc because we CAN instantly find that info.. So do we need to learn it? I don’t know what I think. I’m attached to the romance of the idea of writing out these things in a nice excersise book with a nice neat title underlined with a ruler. I LIKE that stuff… Hmm

  7. Jason
    Jason says:

    I agree with the title of this article but not the listed offenses, having five children, 6th, 4th, 1st and K. I see other concerns as well, and those being of greater concern.

  8. beyodbeige
    beyodbeige says:

    Well, I used cell phones in my class all the time.Because my students needed to research visual ideas for projects. That said, you gotta monitor. I have caught students sexting, facebooking, trying to play games, looking up inappropriate content,bullying,etc. etc. They will try to cross the line if they can. Adolescent brains. Love them.

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