Silence is Still Golden: Thoughts from a Recovered Earbud Allower

I fell into the abyss of compromise about week five of this year. I was hearing reports that a student was able to focus better with the use of music. I heard this from a number of different sources, and so I allowed it. This decision tainted my view of earbuds, tainted it in a positive way.

The other factor that influenced my allowance of earbuds was the number of assignments that included a video component. Too often I was rebuffed when I addressed the earbud situation finding that they were watching an assigned video.

These realities numbed my thinking, and, I must confess, made me think that allowing students to listen to music was actually helpful.

I believe this no more! The student who started this earbud change was focused when using earbuds. She was not disruptive to other students and worked quietly at her computer . . . achieving absolutely nothing!

Here is my erroneous thinking: A freshman can sit at a computer, put in earbuds, select their favorite music, and then learn difficult or new material. Have I lost my mind?

What’s happened is we have discovered a new babysitter for an off-task student. This is a crock! Learning isn’t taking place. The students are just medicated by music. That’s not teaching. We are losing the courage to fight the battle of the brain. Learning is hard work that takes effort and focus for new material to stick. The environment needs structure and it should be comfortable, but I believe we are headed in the wrong direction.

I asked a student a couple of weeks ago if he does homework at home. He said, “Yes.” I asked him to describe what that looks like. It was the most creative explanation of how not to study that I have ever heard, but he was serious. Here is a close approximation of what he said, “I sit down on the couch and turn on my TV with Netflix. My phone is right next to me and I usually like to have one earbud in while I listen to music. And I do my homework.”

We need to look strategically at the use of earbuds as a tool for learning. The goal cannot be to pacify the student but rather to assist them in the process. I believe silence is still golden and great learning happens when we focus all our mental resources on the task at hand.