The Epidemic of Wearing Headphones

Every single student, not only in this school, but in most American high schools enjoy the privilege of listening to music. Having headphones on in class or in the hallways can create a feeling of comfort. Each individual has different music tastes and a different reason for why they have headphones on. You can feel like a rebel with one headphone in without your teacher having any idea, or you can be caught very easily and have your phone taken away in front of all of your peers. Really, how does having music constantly in the background affect students at Harwood? Will it increase your grades or plummet them? 


The goal for most teachers is to have kids full attention during class time. Teachers often start class by asking kids to turn their attention to the work in front of them, including shutting down all devices. That is not a rule for all teachers at Harwood though: The headphone and phone rules differentiate between each class and each teacher. Two Harwood science teachers shared their opinions and reasoning behind their rule of no headphones in class. 


Andrew Reid, who teaches integrated science, AP bio, science of the mind and human physiology told me he bases his headphone rule off of what the scientific research, and what the evidence says about wearing earbuds during times you are supposed to be focusing says. “Your brain is focusing on what’s happening in the music. And even with one earbud in and one earbud out that’s a chunk of your brain and your attention that’s being split, and it’s hard to fully engage in what is going on in class.” 


Susannah Cowden, who teaches integrated science two and chemistry, agreed with Mr. Reid, adding on how being a teacher, she just wants to create an environment that works for all of her students. Student’s are often ignoring her directions and having one earbud in anyways during group participation times or when she is talking, can lead to unneeded arguments between teachers and students. 


Often, when students are asked to take out our headphones we respond with an emotional reaction. “What ends up happening is you can activate the amygdala, the emotional center of our brain, which can lead to students shutting down, being angry, or getting mad at a teacher for telling them to put their music way, even though the teacher is trying to do it to help to engage and support them in their learning.” Mr. Reid says. Listening to music that you enjoy can be like a safety blanket for people. Additionally, this comfort can change the trajectory of a student’s day: how they feel, and how they choose to interact with those around them. Music can provide a sense of comfort and stability for the brain, yet will that actually help us get through the school year?


Ms. Cowden talked about an example of how when driving in intense situations, the driver is most likely to turn down the volume to the radio or the music they are listening to to try to get better focused on the road ahead of them. “We are choosing to do that because we are recognizing that we want to be fully focused on that on the driving piece, and we’re essentially doing the same thing in a class where we’re trying to focus on something and learn.” 


Every brain is different though; studies show that some kids with ADHD are actually more likely to be more focused while listening to music and multitasking than they would be doing the task in silence. That’s the thing, every single brain is different. Like how some brains work better under pressure than others do. “Our brains are really complex. And each of our brains are different. One of the challenges is figuring out what is best for everyone in class and how we can create an environment in which everyone is actively participating and thriving and learning,” Cowden said. 


“One thing that evidence suggests is that the best types of music are slow, calm, instrumental music without lyrics. Because a lot of times lyrics of songs, you have emotional connections to especially activate your amygdala, which shuts down and deactivates the hippocampus region of your brain, which is like what we use for learning and memory,” Reid also added. 


The rule for teachers who don’t permit students to wear headphones is just do not put them in during inappropriate times, just wait until after a teacher is talking to the class or when you are not working in groups with other students. Most students do follow that rule because they do have the option to listen to music instead of no option at all. This rule also allows students to listen to music during studying hours, which a study at CSU global showed that over 60% of people with a GPA over 3.2 listen to music during their study time. But still with all of the evidence, there is no definitive answer. The human brain is so complicated and individual, it is hard to find a solution that satisfies everyone.