Contradictory Messages from Educators

I’ve slacked off updating this blog for the last month or so as I tackled finals and increasing demands at work. So I’m going to slide back into things here with an easy one…

While many elementary and high schools have banned cell phones, at least one university has made them mandatory in the name of safety. Montclair State University requires “Full-Time Freshmen and Transfers” to have a cellphone from the institution’s chosen provider, Rave Wireless Services. The WCBS article and video linked to above quote a price of $420 a year which includes “just 50 peak voice minutes a month, but unlimited text messaging to any carrier, unlimited campus-based data usage, and student activated emergency GPS tracking.” The newer reports focus on the GPS device tracking capability as a safety feature.

So some students who matriculate to Montclair will be coming from schools where they’ve been told that their phones are dangerous distractions to a new institution that proclaims cell phones to be so important to students’ safety that they are mandatory. I know that the situation is much more complicated: colleges and universities are much larger, have many more students, and have more mature students. But the apparent contradiction seems pretty confusing. I suspect that the simple, uncomplicated (and thus wrong) messages each side has attempted to portray (“They’re evil distractions!” “No, they’re necessary safety devices!”) is the root cause of this apparent contradiction.

It’s very easy for those of us who work in higher education to ignore or merely be ignorant of what our counterparts in elementary and high schools are doing. Those of us who study college students (a pseudo-discipline we have labeled “student development”) very easily and quite often fall into the trap that everything important that happens to people happens between the time they step foot on campus and leave campus after graduation. But our students come to us shaped by their experiences throughout primary school, secondary school, and other life experiences. How damaging is it to all of education and all educators when we contradict one another (“Social Networking Services are bad!” “No, they’re good!”) without attempting to resolve or explain those apparent contradictions? And how confused and disillusioned do we make our students?