Classroom Terror or Electronic Godsend?

A minute electrical device could save a life in the case of an emergency, create persistent distractions that causes a student’s grades to drop, interrupt classes with an array of annoying sounds, violate personal privacy, help keep track of time and events, and even act as a tool to cheat in school, and everyone has one in his pocket. A necessity in most people’s lives, the cellular phone contributes to modern society adding to the list of valuable tools available. Yet school boards disagree with each other on policies to regulate cell phone use in school; some argue that students should be trusted with the freedom to possess cellular devices, while others state that the devices should never reside on school grounds. With so many teens possessing a cell phone, schools should create a fair policy to deal with the popular technology.

Over the years cell phones have increased in popularity and usefulness. As the machines grow smaller, the programs, applications, and features continue to grow enabling their users to accomplish just about any simple task. People can now send text messages, play video games, surf the Internet, find street directions, check their e-mail, capture video, and take pictures with their cell phones, along with the original use of making phone calls, and with each new model, new possibilities arise. People often use their cell phones to keep in touch with friends, navigate their busy schedules, and contact others in times of need or assistance. These gadgets are created with simple controls and easy-to-learn functions to allow anyone to use. Young elementary school children, high school students, parents, and even seniors carry the phones and the age range expands each year, infecting more and more in the electronic craze.

A common sight, finding students using their cell phones during school hours no longer brings about attention. Students all continue to use their phones, especially with their friends, and many no longer think much of the ignored rules. Teens feel that if everyone is using a phone during class, then the consequences aren’t too risky. From a desk amongst the rest, I can sometimes see what the teacher cannot: girls pretending to find a chap stick in their purses when actually texting in their bags, and guys texting from the cover of their hoodie pockets.

I, myself, have a cell phone which I bring to school each day. Although I normally remember to turn my phone off before leaving my house to catch the school bus, I occasionally forget to hit the power button. Set to “Vibrate” as a back-up plan, if my phone did happen to receive a call during class one day, the silent vibrations would not cause a distraction from inside my backpack. I have never needed to rely on this back-up plan, however, as I have never received a call during class hours.

While I may not text in class or make a phone call during passing periods, I still enjoy the freedom bringing my phone to school. Admittedly, I have turned my phone on during school before to show some friends a picture or to bring up a conversation that I had earlier. Checking dates and times on my phone helps me remember past events and keep track of time. If students only used their phones for good purposes, then schools wouldn’t have so much difficulty dealing with the mobile devices.

Unfortunately, most students break school policies and use cell phones when they shouldn’t. Rumors, including dangerous threats, can instantly spread throughout a school with the help of cell phones and cause wide spread panic. “Students can text-message rumors of bomb threats or school shootings—credible or not—to their parents and hundreds of classmates within seconds,” states Michaela Saunders, Omaha World-Herald staff writer, in her article “Safety Propels School to Limit Cell Phone Use; Rumors Spread by Text Hard to Stop.” This can be troublesome whether the rumors hold true or not, and can leave principals and other school officials defenseless.

When a crisis strikes, many parents wish their students to possess a mobile phone. Many parents begin to panic after seeing events of emergencies on the news and will worry when faced with no way to contact their children. When the child calls home with a cell phone and lets his parents know more about the situation, parents’ fears no longer urge them to frantically call into the school’s main office trying to contact their children. Cell phones are also faster alternatives to reaching help when an emergency arises, as pay phones may not always reside nearby and a lack of spare change can end the hope of operating the phone. Thought as godsends to students and parents after witnessing events such as the Columbine High school shootings and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the New York Trade Center and Washington, D. C., schools in some states have relinquished their bans on cell phones. “In fact, among the first phone calls to the emergency ‘911’ telephone number service for help at Columbine High School were ones from students dialing in from their cell phones,” writes Vanessa St. Gerard in The Education Digest, with her article, “Updating Policy on Latest Risks for Students with Cell Phones in the School.” Because of these simple facts, many schools, including those in Ohio, have changed their policies to no longer ban cell phones.

Still wary to allow cell phones because of the recent rise in cheating, teachers contribute to phone-restricting policies. Phones with built-in cameras have created a new family of crime that students feel obliged to commit. To cheat, students secretly take pictures of tests to show to other students who will take the exam in a later class period, and insert test answers into their cell phones, creating the opportunity to glance into their pockets for a perfect score. Recording answers with an electronic device has produced a problem for many teachers, dampening their chances of supporting cell phone freedoms for students. With phones now able to take pictures and videos, students not only turn the lens to tests; reports of inappropriate pictures of students and staff were taken in various schools across the nation. In fact, disturbing images were found on, both, student and staff’s, phones in the two high schools I have attended, Minot High School, and William Howard Taft High School. Parents and staff worry about personal privacy, especially in bathrooms and locker rooms. “Kids are now taking pictures of their math test for later classes and taking very inappropriate photos of other students and posting these pictures on the Internet before school is even dismissed,” principal of Rocky River Middle School, David Root, stated in Gerard’s article, figuring that half of his students have cell phones. With a camera in everyone’s hands, people lose their sense of security and begin to feel violated.

Distractions in class continue to give cellular phones a dishonorable reputation, and keep them at the top of each teacher’s unfavorable list. “About four of every five teens age 13 to 18 have a cell phone, according to a national survey released in September by a wireless trade association. That’s up from 40 percent in 2004,” wrote Saunders. With so many phones, teachers have learned to deal with ring tones interrupting their lectures and students must sacrifice concentration and focus. Noisy cell phones can disturb students during examinations, possibly affecting their grades. Even when set to “Vibrate,” a phone’s vibration can cause a rattling sound when set on a desk or when touching the chair, even from inside a pocket. I am amazed when students choose to use their phones during classes, especially during tests, and the constant buzzing, beeping, and ringing generates an irritating distraction.

Although thought to be nothing but nuisances in class by school staff, both students and parents feel that cell phones should remain a privileged freedom. Granted the ability to contact a parent at times such as before and after school and during lunch can help students keep tabs with their parents on activities and plans. Parents rely on cell phones to arrange ways for their children to come home, to arrange transportation, to aware each other of schedule changes, and even to arrange lunch plans. A student cannot always receive or make a call with a pay phone or through the main office, and if cell phones were not permitted on school grounds at all, too many students would be lined up to use a school phone after the final bell. Generally more convenient, reasonable, and handy, cell phones make students more responsible and organized.

School boards all across the nation are discussing the cell phone situation and modifying school policies to address the issue. Warren District 121 President John Anderson renounced the forcing of students to keep phones off and stored in lockers stating, “If it’s out of sight, it doesn’t matter if it’s in their backpack or in a locker.” Board member Michael Penich added, “More locker break-ins could occur if phones were deposited in them each day,” in the Chicago Daily Herald’s article, “Warren Clarifies Cell Phone Rules,” written by Bob Susnjara. Warren District 121’s policy related to electronic devices now states that pupils may bring cell phones to school but the devices must remain turned off during school hours or on buses. Any student who violates the policy receives a detentions or an out-of-school suspension. “We’re going to have signs put up and constant reminders of what our rules and regulations are,” District 121 Superintendent Phil Sobocinski assured. With different views, New York City Public Schools enforced bans on cell phones on school property by confiscating thousands of phones from students and Rocky River Middle School requires students to keep their cell phones in their lockers during school hours. When a rule is violated, detentions are granted, phones are confiscated, and parents are called to claim phones from the main office. Severe consequences are fashioned, intending to scare teens into leaving their phones at home.

Now, the terror of cell phones force elementary schools to create rules to regulate younger children and their new phones. Jerri Moore, principal of Copan Elementary School, in the state of Oklahoma, bans cell phones at her school during school hours. “Elementary school students will not be allowed to carry phones during the day, while riding on the bus, or during after-school activities,” writes Helen Eriksen in her article, “Katy Alters Policy / District Adopts New Rules on Cell Phones at School,” in the Houston Chronicle. School policies tend to remain more lenient to students of older age.

With so many different school policies across the country, every school has addressed the cell phone issue differently. The most reasonable policy I have seen regulates those at Minot High School located in Minot, North Dakota, and in various other middle and high schools in Nebraska. These schools allow students to possess cell phones and use the electronics at any time in the day, when not in a class. The phones are acceptable in the hallways to check the time, the cafeteria to find friends and arrange a lunch date, in the commons to contact parents, and on buses to chat with friends. Remaining turned off and kept out of sight in classrooms, phones are allowed out of class and in study halls. With this policy, parents feel safe knowing they can contact their children at school, especially in the event of an emergency, students enjoy the freedoms of bringing their phones to school, and teachers and school officials appreciate the decrease in classroom interruptions due to cell phones. With the privilege of using their phones after class, students are less motivated to secretly risk having their treasures confiscated, so a peaceful balance resides in the classroom.

Just another conflict between teenagers and adults, cell phones bring up another disagreement. Students need to accept responsibility for the devices and school officials should come to an understanding and construct reasonable and fair policies. Giving and taking eases conflicts and creates peace among people, especially if each group receives a benefit. By coming to an accord on the cell phone issue and accepting the consequences, schools will run more effectively with less classroom distractions. If students were trusted to use cell phones when policies allow, and principals gave fair time to use the gadgets, a peace would exist in schools. Perhaps then, these annoying classroom terrors would become an understood freedom for all.

References:

  • Eriksen, Helen. “Katy Alters Policy / District Adopts New Rules on Cell Phones at School.” Houston Chronicle. 26 Jun 2008. 1. 05 Feb 2009.
  • Michaela Saunders. “Safety Propels Schools to Limit Cell Phone Use; Rumors Spread by Text Hard to Stop.” Omaha World Herald. 08 Oct 2008. 01A. 05 Feb 2009.
  • Susnjara, Bob. “Warren Clarifies Cell Phone Rules.” Chicago Daily Herald (Paddock). 12 Jun 2008. 3. 05 Feb 2009.
  • St Gerard, Vanessa. “Updating Policy on Latest Risks for Students with Cell Phones in the School.” Education Digest, The. 01 Dec 2006. 43. 05 Feb 2009.