The Associated Press published an article last week about US high schools increasingly banning iPods because some kids use them to cheat, and issue that’s also been raised in the UK.
The article, reprinted in USA Today and hundreds of other newspapers, reported one example where a school "recently enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realised some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the players”.
I don't want to second-guess the individual decisions of specific teachers and school principals. But the ban does raise questions, the most interesting of which is: Should iPods or other handheld gadgets instead be "required" during tests?
What the iPod ban teaches kids
Most secondary school students prepare for tests by guessing which facts might be on the test, then trying to memorise those facts to maximise their grades. Hours after the test, those facts tend to be forgotten. This is a gross oversimplification, sure, but largely true.
How much of your high school history, science or maths do you still retain to this day? If you're like me, the answer is practically zero.
In my case, the single most valuable thing I learned in high school was how to touch-type. Skills, habits and experiences, more than temporarily memorised facts, are what turn us into adults who can learn.
So many college students I've met - even at some of the nation's top universities - are there because they have an aptitude for memorisation. Many straight-A high school students have few interests, little curiosity and zero inclination toward intellectual discovery. Our system rewards the memorizers and punishes the creative thinkers.
An iPod, when used during tests, is nothing more than a machine that stores and spits out data. By banning iPods and other gadgets, we're teaching kids to actually become iPods - to become machines that store and spit out data. Instead, we should be teaching them to use iPods - to use that data and to be human beings who can think - and leave data storage to the machines.
By banning iPods, we're preparing our kids for a world without the internet, a world without iPods, a world without electronic gadgets that can store information. But is that the world they're going to live in?
What iPods teach kids
What are those iPod cheaters doing, really? They're creatively putting facts at their fingertips using ubiquitous technology in preparation for using those facts.
Isn't that a more realistic preparation for college, career and life than teaching memorization?