Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

“Which came first: the chicken or the egg?”

Who hasn’t explored this age-old debate with little kids?  I know I have.  

Ask any other person you know how the discussion went and I am sure that they will all agree that the kids loved the inquiry, the opportunity to explore theories and come up with some spectacularly weird and wonderful facts and explanations.

The chicken and egg dilemma stems from the observation that all chickens hatch from eggs and all chicken eggs are laid by chickens. “Chicken-and-egg” is a metaphoric adjective describing situations where it is not clear which of two events should be considered the cause and which should be considered the effect, to express a scenario of infinite regress, or to express the difficulty of sequencing actions where each seems to depend on others being done first.

But it’s not just the little kids who enjoy chicken and egg discussions: I sat with some grade 11s for lunch earlier today and the conversation soon drifted from Spider-Man to the subject of mobile phones.  Specifically, why are people so willing to pay so much money for mobile phones?  I suggested that it was probably a chicken and egg issue and postulated that if it wasn’t expensive then people might not find it as desirable: Is it desirable because it is expensive?  Or is it expensive because it is desirable?  Hmmm…suffice to say that lunch ended without any resolution or satisfaction.

Chickens and mobile phones were still on my mind when I say down to write this post. What do we do, if anything, about having them in schools? Mobile phones that is – everyone knows that keeping chickens in schools is awesome!

Mobile phones, however, are a bit more contested.  Articles like this one  (UK), this one (Singapore), this one (US), this one (China) show that this debate is still attracting significant media attention across the world.  This should not be surprising as it feels like it was only yesterday when we were discussing whether laptops should be banned from schools (for many of the same reasons).  The research data it seems is equally contested – perhaps indicating that it makes sense for some schools, and not others…

My own view is that blanket bans do not make sense, and if the decision for a school is to ban them then they should be working towards a time where they can be introduced safely and effectively.  

This is a chicken-and-egg dilemma. I know that some schools ban them because they distract from learning (apparently) and we (naturally) worry about what students are accessing, the amount of screen time they might be having, and cyberbullying. But in removing mobile phones we deny students (and teachers) the opportunity to access incredibly powerful learning and teaching tool and also fail to help young people learn how to make healthy choices about the use of technology (it’s not going anywhere). We want children to access and learn how to use technology efficiently and safely.

So in terms of what came first: is it the ban or the behaviour?

I know there will be difficulties, challenges, wrong turns, inappropriate use, and safeguarding explosions where phones are involved…but surely the cat is out the bag and I would want my own children to learn how to navigate their cluttered reality, to be prepared for their future, and not be denied the opportunity to stumble their way through it.  After all, when we teach children how to swim, we don’t drain the pool because they might drown.  We manage the risks in a different way.

For me, this is a learning and teaching issue that we just need to take head-on if we can.  Managing technology (any of it) in the classroom was not something I covered in my teacher training in ‘96.  And neither was how to teach online.  But I imagine that it’s a mainstream staple of initial teacher training and school PD provision nowadays (it probably should be).  My humble opinion is that if we share with students and staff a suite of effective practices and help to instill healthy habits when using technology, underpinned by values, then we can significantly reduce the potential risks.  Every school context is different, so there will unlikely be a one-size-fits-all approach to this.

Indeed, we seem happy enough to teach students how to safely use Bunsen burners and chemicals, to use bandsaws and drills, and play dangerous contact sports…but we feel so strongly about the potential dangers of mobile phones that we lump them in with knives and guns on the list of dangerous items that should never be seen in schools.

I mentioned the relevance of context above, and I appreciate that some schools are already dealing with behaviour so challenging to manage on a day-to-day basis that mobile phones serve only to amplify the risks to untenable levels. Where that’s the case then perhaps it does make more sense to keep the phones away and bring in those pesky chickens after all!!

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