Saturday, September 8, 2018

France Has The Right Idea

I am a member of an increasingly endangered and probably peculiarly-regarded minority. I do not have a smartphone. While I am an avid user of the Internet via my laptop and generic tablet, the thought of constant connectivity has never appealed to me. I value the kind of focussed solitude that promotes true connectivity with the world around me far too much.

I therefore applaud the bold step that France has taken: it has banned phones from all state middle schools.
“I thought I would be freaked out, but it has been fine,” said one 13-year-old girl, who got an iPhone when she was 11. “I left my phone in my bag all day and I was surprised to find it didn’t bother me. Normally I’d be on Snapchat and Instagram. But my friends are here at school so it’s pretty easy to just talk instead.”
To prepare for the ban, Claude Debussy middle school in Paris started with Monday bans on phones. And one of the results I suspect they hoped for, increased social interaction, emerged early in the ban, according to principal Eric Lathière.
“About four or five weeks into our phone-free Monday experiment, we saw children bringing packs of cards into school to play in break time...We hadn’t seen cards at school for years. Children brought books in to read and pupils stood around chatting far more than they had before.”
The logic for the ban is compelling:
The French education minister has called the ban a detox law for the 21st century, saying teenagers should have the right to disconnect. Children’s phones were already banned in classrooms – except for teaching purposes – but under the new law they are banned everywhere inside the gates, including playgrounds and canteens. The French senate expanded this to allow high schools to ban phones if they choose, but few, if any, are expected to do so. Many suggest 18-year-old pupils with the right to vote can make their own decision on phones.
I doubt that the political will for such a ban exists in Canada. For example, going completely in the opposite direction is the Toronto District School Board which last week restored access to Netflix, Instagram and Snapchat. The blocking of access to those services had nothing to do with educational principles but was prompted by the high amount of bandwidth such services require.

The board's egregious vacuum of leadership is perhaps best reflected in this statement by board spokesperson Ryan Bird:
“We leave the decision up to individual schools and individual teachers to put in place guidelines that work best for them.”
It is heartening to know that at least in France, that kind of buck-passing has yielded to educational integrity that puts the real needs of students first.


  1. My wife has a smartphone and I appreciate her using it, Lorne. Two years ago, when she was visiting patients, she had a flat tire. She called me and I arranged for CAA to fix the problem.

    But, like you, I still use a land line. And, like you, I fully support a ban on smartphones in the classroom.

    1. I didn't mean to leave the impression that I don't have a cellphone, Owen. Both my wife and I have prepaid flip-phones which we only use when we need them, such as when out shopping to meet up later, etc.

  2. We have to keep up with the times, Lorne. But there is the right time and the right place for everything.

  3. I have read that the titans of Silicon Valley, or some of them, keep 'devices' out of their kids' hands, even sending them to schools that prohibit them. That certainly makes sense to me. Then again I'm the guy who thinks that nearly half the kids today would do well with a stretch in the army.

    1. Well, they probably know what they have wrought upon the world, Mound.