December 21, 2016
In a teenager’s world of competitive GPAs and pop quizzes, music is often the remedy for the onslaught of stress brought about by high school. Just listening to one song that we like can completely alter the trajectory of our entire day. In a typical school day, a student will feel on edge about something; whether it be a test they are dreading, an argument they are having with a friend, or a 2-hour driving session with Ms. Barb. It all can be a lot to handle, and the school system, along with the Atholton administration, acknowledges this. However, with the exception of lunch, when one earbud is allowed, students are to keep their headphones out of sight during the school day.
This policy probably doesn’t cross the student’s mind on a daily basis. Many teachers either forget to enforce the rule or refuse to, and while this does benefit the student in the short-term, it displays the ludicrousness of having a policy this strict in the first place. If only a handful of teachers and specialists actually recognize the existence of the rule, then its legitimacy takes a hit through no fault of the teachers that attempt to enforce it. Students most likely are not thinking about a rule-abiding teacher’s perspective in the moment of being chided for wearing earbuds on their way to class, and even less so if their property is temporarily confiscated. This is no excuse for insubordinate behavior, but rather an explanation for student frustration.
But the most affected group in this entire dynamic is the teacher that decides to follow the rule and subsequently receives no support from their peers.
One teacher, a self-proclaimed rule follower, said, “I think it’s a losing battle. I will walk through the hall during the passing period and I will see at any point in time half a dozen students that have their earbuds in. And I’ll stop and ask them to take it off, and for the most part, they’re respectful and they’ll take it off, but they’ll put in back in.”
They mentioned how a student might not associate wearing headphones in the hallway with breaking a rule because they are accustomed to wearing them outside of school. “I also think that, like I said earlier, us trying to enforce this rule really emphasizes that generation difference between us,” they said. “I’m not going to speak for the students, but perhaps they don’t see it as a big deal because it’s something that they’re used to.”
An additional factor in this dynamic is that many students come from the Applications and Research Lab (ARL) for their career academy classes earlier in the school day. Ben Rosicky takes biochemistry classes at ARL and notes that the earbud policy there deviates from the rule at Atholton: it’s one in-one out. ARL is an independent institution with its own rules, and Rosicky suggested the protocol there is just as effective, if not more so.
“I understand the concern from teachers, but I would like to see the rule changed to one earbud out,” he said. “This is the policy at ARL and it works great. It is very rare to see students argue with the with the regulations or listen to music past the bell.”
Despite his call for a more lenient policy, Rosicky admitted that teachers still need a certain degree of control in order to make this a fair system. He said that “they should establish the caveat that if a student refuses to talk to administration or take out one of their earbuds, they can have their headphones taken.” This maintains a balance of power and consent among the teachers and students that draws a much broader line than the one currently in place.
Another reason for this may be the fact that almost every other Howard County high school allows students to use at least one earbud in between classes. Nine of the remaining eleven HoCo schools allow at least one earbud in, and both Wilde Lake and Centennial have no restrictions on hallway headphone use at all. It’s definitely a frustrating factor when students see a more lenient rule being enforced around the county. While many students ignore the rule regardless, they still feel like it’s a burden to have to worry about being policed for their headphone usage.
The administration has made it clear that the motive behind instilling the policy in the first place is safety. Communication is key during any emergency situation, and the pathway between teacher and student must be maintained. They believe that earbuds qualify as an obstruction to that pathway. Ms. Hutchins noted that when the school has that many students trudging through narrowly confined hallways, “you need [a pathway for communication] if something happened during that time.” She acknowledged the point that a one-in, one-out policy would be the most effective compromise made between the teachers and students, satisfying each side’s intentions well. However, she pointed out that the administration is not concerned with the written rule in itself, but rather how they anticipate in will play out in reality.
“I would not have a problem with one earbud in the ear; my concern is: is one earbud going to be two?” she said. “I really don’t have an issue with one, it’s just that I don’t think that’s where it will stop.” This is definitely a valid argument. But this has been the result anyway, even with a non-earbud policy. The administration will find that students will be much more inclined to follow a rule that they agree with, as opposed to complying with something universally viewed as one-sided.
The earbud policy at Atholton High School is antiquated and does not account for the way this generation of students go about their daily lives. The same anonymous teacher brought up the concept that students learn better when they are comfortable within their environment. Also, many students use their earbuds simply for comfort without disrupting other students in class or in the hallway. “I think that it would be beneficial to the students and to the teachers if they were allowed to have one in,” they said. “Again, as long as the music wasn’t so loud that they were able to hear announcements or teacher instructions while walking in the hall, I think it might help them get through or get in the right zone, if they’re about to take an exam.” They even went as far as to say that value can be found in using earbuds during specified class time as well. “I think it could help them in the classroom, if it’s okay with the teacher and they allow headphones out, to just have one in, so they could still listen to instruction but also be able to listen to their music and concentrate on the assignment.” From the teacher’s perspective, they want to see their students succeed, and, to a certain extent, most would accommodate to a student’s best learning environment in order for that to happen.
Students and teachers alike agree with the clear intention of the administration’s efforts to maintain student safety. A school that allows both headphones to blast music at maximum volume into the ears of students while they’re in the halls is probably not taking enough precaution. That said, a one in-one out policy adjustment is a happy medium for both the administration and students of Atholton High School. All students and teachers contacted recognized that the rule’s intent is not to make students or teachers lives more difficult. However, this is a clear byproduct of the policy. The current situation draws a comparison to a battleground, with the administration and students on either side. If a truce is to be made, then a policy adjustment might as well be a peace treaty.