Classrooms Are No Place for Cell Phones

Posted: Jun 26, 2006 12:01 AM

Last month Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein teamed up to ban cell phones from New York public schools. As expected, uproar ensued, but you may be shocked at where the racket came from. No, it was not the students who were up in arms about having their precious lifelines taken away. It was the local politicos and parent groups who most opposed the ban.

When I first heard about the cell phone ban for New York schools, I figured students would most vehemently oppose the ban. I guessed that they would be so disappointed about losing the opportunity to text-message their friends while in class, take pictures during breaks, surf the internet during lectures, and talk on the phone between periods that they would do all they could to overturn the ban. Instead, these students simply adjusted to the new rules and went back to the good old days of passing notes under the desks. But their parents and politicians did not back down so easily.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, city Controller William Thompson, several ranking members of the City Council, including Education Committee Chairman Robert Jackson and Land Use Committee Chairwoman Melinda Katz, all came out against the ban. A parents' group collected more than 1,200 signatures on a petition opposing the ban. And City Councilwoman Letitia James (WFP-Brooklyn) introduced legislation calling for a moratorium on cell phone confiscation. James also is exploring whether the Council has the authority to override Mayor Bloomberg and Klein on the issue, she said.

Parent and political groups claim that students need the phones before and after school for safety and security reasons. They site the scarce supply of pay phones and the non-existent after school programs as reasons why cell phones are needed to arrange for transportation or deal with an emergency. Also, most parents enjoy the idea of being able to contact their child at a moments notice to inquire about their whereabouts and current activity.

I am shocked and disappointed that some parents and politicians believe that cell phones as safety devices are a worthy tradeoff for disruptions at school. That philosophy is comparable to claiming that weapons should be allowed in school to prevent after school attacks. Frankly, it just doesn’t make sense. Students survived for hundreds of years without cell phones and they don’t need them now. If parents are seriously worried about the safety of their children, they can take other steps to ensure their safety. A cell phone is not the answer.

Public schools have become war zones with teachers and administrators acting as the unequipped arbitrators. Cell phones are a big reason these behavior problems are occurring in schools everywhere around the country. Students are inciting violence by calling gangs and older kids anytime an argument occurs, running away from teachers who see them talking on the phone, and turning their cell phone ring tones to a pitch that adults cannot notice because of hearing deficiencies. Students are downloading inappropriate movies and images and sharing them between friends which disrupts class and can lead to sexual harassment situations. Students are using cell phones to cheat by either taking pictures of their answer sheet, sending the image to other fellow students or even by text-messaging the answers. They also use cell phones to coordinate drug deals and to call into schools where they fake absences by pretending to be their parents or other false identities. Besides distracting the cell phone users, other students are unable to focus because of cell phone disruptions.

Cell phones put unneeded stress on teachers and administrators as they exhaust all of their tools to reach students. Kids today are more rebellious, more disrespectful and more undisciplined than ever. Adults need to take a stand and give kids more boundaries, not more freedom. This discipline starts at home, but it spreads to school as well. If teachers agree with the Mayor's ban (which they overwhelmingly do), then parents and politicians should too. Teachers have a tough enough job as it is and we must make it easier for them by upholding this ban on cell phones at schools.