With various grade schools now simultaneously mandating (Free registration or bugmenot required) and banning students carrying iPod’s, it’s clear we’re a long way from understanding the role of portable media in youth school culture. Most schools in favor of banning have policies justifying their bans such as this one:
Schools are establishments where contact, communication and discussion are important, valuable and to be cherished. These must bet sensibly protected. Students in school should not cocoon themselves in a world of their own within the community.
Students, by contrast, argue that listening together and discussing music with one another creates far more meaningful opportunities for socialization than would otherwise be available. Along those lines, it would seem that the trend in designing portable media is actually towards more and more intrinsic opportunities to build communities. For example, the new Play Station Portable what some might see as the arch-nemesis of ‘old-fashioned’ socialization is able to wirelessly connect up to 16 devices in the area to share one another’s media and play collaboratively. In this case, what might have otherwise been a solitary bus ride home staring out the window (or even reading a book) becomes one of the most social experiences of the day. Other efforts such as BuddyBeads are designed specifically to mediate social relationships among teenage girls.
Another concern voiced is that taking iPods into study spaces such as libraries is distracting students from the real goal of school learning. Finding an empirical basis for this, however, is difficult. Most quantitative studies fail to find statistically significant effects of background music on learning one way or the other and a number even find improvement. When even large scale quantitative studies have difficulty finding an effect, being able to say whether a specific individual who voices a preference for music while studying will be harmed is virtually impossible. Additionally, it is unlikely that a French teacher would complain when her students begin voluntarily listening to French rapper M.C. Solaar outside of class, or students in China learning English begin playing video games in English. Apple, naturally, has worked extensively to highlight numerous case studies and possibilities for improving schools with iPods.
A further complaint about media in the schools has been the use of sms text messaging by students to bully one another, prompting Australian schools to require parental consent for students to able to bring mobile phones to school. In cases like this, it’s easy to argue that the bullying would have existed independent of the media and text messaging simply affords another (perhaps less harmful) way for it to take place. Other cases, such as students being stabbed and their iPod’s stolen are more difficult to reconcile. Efforts are underway such as engraving ID tags into expensive media devices and programming SIM chips to automatically register theft, though many parents are left wondering, at what price point do devices simply not belong in the world of children? What should the role of parents, school administrators and government be in shaping a child’s relationship to their media environment?