When I was in school, being caught on-campus with a cell phone was serious trouble. By which I mean not “They’d take it away,” or “You’d get detention,” but rather, “They would call the police and you would be arrested.” This rule, which seemed stupid even at the time, was a product of what was even then an earlier age, when pagers and cellular phones were possessed only by medical doctors, high-powered businessmen, and drug dealers. Since high school students did not fall into the first two categories, the law felt it was safe to assume they fell into the third.
Now, rules this simple sadly do not work anymore, if they’d ever worked in the first place, which they do not. As our civilization changes, the rules have to get increasingly complex. Even in my time, the existing rule of “Do not bring a cell phone or pager onto school grounds,” was problematic: there was a surprising population of seniors who were registered as volunteer firemen, and while they didn’t need pagers at the school proper, they did need to have them in their trucks, which were parked on school grounds, and they might reasonably need to carry them to afterschool activiites.
There’s a balance that needs to be stuck. There are uses of phones that plainly ought be allowed: “Hi, this is your father. I need you to call your mother and tell her that I’m okay but the plant just exploded*.” “Mom, help, the teacher just spontaneously combusted,” and those which plainly ought not be: “What’s the answer to number 5?” “Hey, want to see some naughty pictures of me?**”, but between these two extremes is a large gray siberia-like wasteland.
In the land of Kalamazoo, as reported by mlive.com, for instance, they have ot grapple with nagging parents who call during the school day to check up on their spawn, in what I can only assume is an attempt to publically shame them by having mommy call in the middle of shaking down a freshman for his lunch money.
This is a hard problem for any school, and you might be compelled to feel heartfelt sympathy for them, but fortunately, the teacher’s union helps out by saying one of those things that reminds you that schools are basically run like a combination supermax prison and third world dictatorship:
Cell phones also can “lead to behavior and school-climate issues,” Lambert said. “You can have an incident at one end of the building and it gets instantly communicated to people on the other side of the building, which can just add to the turmoil and exacerbate the problem. That can be a real distraction.”
Because nothing is more antithetical to the scholastic process than the free flow of information, and nothing is more essential to smooth school operations than to assert total control over all routes of communication. I mean, why even bother censoring the school newspaper and banning blogs if the students are just going to text each other whenever something bad happens?
* Incidentally, the day I received this call, I checked the news sites on the internet. The first one to pick up the story noted that there were no indications that this was a terrorist attack.
** I am not entirely sure that this use plainly ought to be verboten, but I think it might be safer to err on the side of restricting it to outside of school hours.