The Unintended and Potentially Harmful Effects of a Phone-Free Classroom

“The ensuing nomophobia—the fear of being without your smartphone—might be enough to provoke a revolution.”

In an essay for The Atlantic, Marcel O’Gorman makes a case for Yondr, a company that uses locked pouches to create phone-free spaces. The piece comes at a time of increased awareness about the presence of phones in our lives. In September the French Government banned the use of mobile phones in school, and more and more performers, recently including Jack White, are making their events phone-free, embracing Yondr’s mission around ditching your phone to “Be Here Now.” France’s announcement in particular (that starting in September, phones will be banned from its public schools) is a tangible marking of a question that has likely been debated since the first smartphone was created: Do smartphones belong in classrooms?

O’Gorman, a professor of English at the University of Waterloo, focuses on the classroom. He notes that educational institutions enacting aggressive rules similar to those in France could have the unintended effect of hindering the relationship between students and instructors. “For school students,” he writes, “the ensuing nomophobia—the fear of being without your smartphone—might be enough to provoke a revolution.”

This is where Yondr swoops in. According to O’Gorman, the use of Yondr pouches could alleviate some of the “anti-establishment” feelings that may come along with a school’s “phone-free” policy. With Yondr, students would be able to have their phones with them without actually being able to use them. “This might be an especially important balance in classroom situations,” writes O’Gorman, “where students see a teacher’s ‘phone shoebox’ as an unwelcome imposition of authority.”

Still, the presence of Yondr pouches in a classroom creates conflict. Boston University professor Joelle Renstrom reports that that some students in her class compared the practice to putting an animal in a cage, and others left the pouches unlocked as a sign of rebellion. In a conversation with NPR, California State University professor Larry Rosen echoed a similar sentiment. “You’re inducing massive anxiety,” he said. “You’re going to get a group of people who really can’t pay attention because that anxiety is an overriding feeling.”

While such practices are still in their infancy and need to be studied for effectiveness, they’re certainly worth paying attention to. And the students’ reaction also illustrates the need to change cultural norms — if being unplugged was more common, it seems unlikely students would see phone-free classroom rules as an imposition.

Read more about the “phone-free” push here

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