10 October 2010

Breakin' the Law

Every once in awhile, I see a piece about dumb laws (now there's even a Web site devoted to them). These are laws which were enacted at some point in the past, and as society and technology moved forward, the law was forgotten...but still left on the books. For example, in Washington state
  • All motor vehicles must be preceded by a man carrying a red flag (daytime) or a red lantern (nighttime) fifty feet in front of said vehicle.
  • It is mandatory for a motorist with criminal intentions to stop at the city limits and telephone the chief of police as he is entering the town.
  • All lollipops are banned.
Furthermore, in Seattle it is still illegal for anyone to carry a concealed weapon that is more than six feet in length. Let that be a lesson to you, fair citizens and visitors to our state.

These are, technically, enforceable. It takes a lot of time and effort to repeal laws, and so they stay in the code and we just pretend they aren't there. Other laws may be broken on purpose in the name of a civil disobedience cause---and society condones that sort of activity, too.

How do we know when it is okay to break the rules?

I was thinking about this after yesterday's presentation on cell phones. What I hear from teachers who are not opposed to using cell phones as instructional tools almost always goes along with this: cell phone use by students during the school day is expressly forbidden (or has many restrictions for place/time) by district or school policy. These same teachers know that when they do allow students to use the phones for instructional purposes that they and the students are not in compliance. While in my professional capacity I might not be able to condone that, I also don't discourage it.

Board policy can suffer in similar ways to "dumb laws." I've seen Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) for districts that are seven years old (and older). Think of all the ways technology and access have changed in the past seven years: increase in mobile devices (cell phones, iPads, netbooks...), wireless capabilities, bandwidth/broadband to more areas, more online tools (blogs, wikis, YouTube, Facebook). An AUP can get antiquated in a hurry. Meanwhile, at the school level, you have more flexibility---but can have the fight between personal opinions. For cell phones, this often takes the form of extremes. And really, do you want to spend your "bored meeting" time listening to the "no way no how" types vs. "teach responsible use" camps?

Instead, the path of least resistance is just to use your professional judgment and hope your administrator isn't one to be hellbent on enforcing the cell phone ban. Personally, I think a good compromise would be to include something like the one below (from the Uni High Student Handbook):
Students may have silenced mobile devices on their person. The use of Communication features on cellular devices during instructional time, or in a disruptive manner in the school atmosphere, is prohibited.

Note: Each teacher has the right to allow the use of mobile devices (e.g. cell phones, laptops, iPods, personal data assistants) during Instructional time.

The school has separate expectations for phones during regular school hours and during extracurricular activities. What I like about this policy is that it leaves the decision up to the teacher. You can set your own expectations. You choose what makes sense.

What a concept.

There are times in both society and school where a common code makes sense. But there also comes a time when we need to look carefully at our values and check to ensure that match what we communicate to stakeholders. In the meantime, this one's for all the teachers out there who are putting themselves on the line in the name of using technology in the classroom:

1 comment:

Dr. Luann Lee said...

I didn't follow the no cell phone law when I had (what Washington passes for) tenure at my last job. At the current new job, I will follow every law to the letter until I am past the insulting probationary period mandatory for all new teachers, regardless if they have 0 years of experience or 22.