A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, April 30, 2006

New York Schools versus the "Electronic Leash"

For a while now, it's been "Don't ring, don't tell."

But now, NYC school officials are trying to cut out students' Razrs and are rolling over students' Rockrs.
Though the phones have been banned in New York City schools for years, parents say that many schools without metal detectors have operated under a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy, with the cellphones ignored as long as they do not ring in the middle of class.

But as the city began random security scanning at middle and high schools yesterday in its latest effort to seize weapons, the gap between school rules and parents' expectations has set off a furor. Some principals recently sent home letters reminding parents that cellphones are not allowed, and at the one school searched yesterday, 129 cellphones were confiscated.

Anxious parents say that cellphones are not a frill but the mortar holding New York City's families together in these times of demanding schedules, mounting extracurricular activities, tutoring sessions and long treks to school.

Some of these parents, also fearful of child predators and terrorist attacks, say that sending their children to school without cellphones is unimaginable. "I have her call me when she gets out of school, and she's supposed to get on the bus right away," Lindsay Walt, an artist, said of her daughter, Eve Thomson, 11, a sixth grader at Salk. "Then I have her call me when she gets off the bus, and I have her call me when she gets in the house. The chancellor will have civil disobedience on his hands. No one in New York is going to let their child go to school without a cellphone."

Boy, if the powers-that-be ever tried that in my district, you'd be able to hear the howling all the way to Noo Yawk. Technically speaking, our students are supposed to turn their phones off once they get to school. In reality, the damn things are on all the time, and I haven't gone a day without one ringing in class for at least a month-- and that includes during standardized testing. They look embarassed and apologize and silence them quickly, but still. I really don't want to hear about how It's Hard To Be A Pimp coming off the kneecap of one of my charming suburban mallrats when I'm trying to teach about the relationship between supply, demand, and price. I have tried to warn my kids that if they use a cell phone during their AP exams, their tests could be invalidated and our school could lose its right to administer the test, but I will bet you anything that some wiseguy will try it anyway, because they just don't believe that we're serious.

For those parents who claim they need to be able to contact their child while they are in school, there's this thing called a telephone that all of us teachers have on our desks, and for 99% of our students, that should be more than good enough. Now, for my student with a baby in extremely critical condition in the NICU, that's a different story-- set the thing on vibrate already and put it up against your body, rather than have a tragedy occur. But I've got kids who, when they get bored or hear that there's going to be an assembly, try to go to the john and call mom to excuse them from class. I've got kids who have tried to text-message answers to each other during exams. I've seen kids call each other on their cells when a fight has broken out and caused hundred-student swarms of spectators when adults were trying to restore order and prevent injury. Cell phones can cause plenty of trouble, and don't even start about when they get stolen, which happened to one of our administrators' phones last year. THAT was fun. I have now had to move to having the kids pull out their cell phones, turn them off, and place them face down on their desks during tests, and then I eagle-eye them for the remainder of the period. That's the best I can do, because even though policy says that I should confiscate them, I don't have time to walk 57 cell phones to six different administrators' offices during the day, and I am certainly not going to keep them myself and be responsible for them.

Having been on New York subways, however, I can understand the parents' point about safety. It would be great if the policy would be to turn them off once they get to school, and in the interest of their children's need for safety, the parents and kids would abide by this. But I haven't seen it happen yet.


At 4/30/06, 6:50 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

In our school system, no one is supposed to have cell phones at all, not even teachers and administrators, not even left in their cars on the parking lots. Because you know, the only use for them is to deal drugs. Now that my daughter has graduated, it can be told - my husband made a false bottom in the car ashtray so she could conceal her phone under it and leave it there during the school day, but have it available for the drive to and from school. I'm not kidding. I don't think a woman has any business driving anywhere in this city without a cell phone. We've had people swept off the roads during flash floods, their cars totally submerged, who were saved because they were able to call for help from their cells. But if they were Memphis City Schools students, they were supposed to have drowned. Seriously, they check the cars on the lots and suspend kids if they find phones.

And as for the phone on your desk - that's very nice. We were told NOT to call the school and ask to get a message to our kids. They refused to pass them. Work all that stuff out ahead of time. Because you know, no one ever has a surprise meeting at work that goes too long, or wrecks their car, so that their kid has to get a ride home with somebody else.

They let school out early recently during a howling thunderstorm, tornado sirens blaring, etc. and parents were mad as hell because they waited in their cars in the pounding hail and didn't know where their kids were - couldn't call them on their nonexistent cell phones, and forget trying to call the school office!

I feel your pain, though. There has to be a middle ground.

At 4/30/06, 7:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's another classification of student who needs a cell phone, a child with a chronic illness.
I could go on and on and on and on about times when my daughter's medical needs and emergencies were mishandled. We were very lucky. She survived all the near disasters. By the time she got to high school they finally allowed students to carry their life saving inhalers and she was allowed to graduate without PE requirements. All students with life threatening chronic illnesses should be allowed their mediations and a cell phone as sometimes there are minutes between life and death. Can you tell I still get riled up when reviewing those years??

At 4/30/06, 7:13 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, see, what you describe-- and what NYC is doing-- is ridiculous.

And that school has other issues if they let kids out EARLY with tornado sirens going off-- we once kept the kids until 4 pm due to very severe storms, and I let each and every one of my kids call their parents to tell them where they were-- which by the way, was not in a big yellow coffin in a blinding rainstorm with 60 mph winds. So most parents were grateful their kids were still there.

But I've got a kid who wants to call mom's boyfriend EVERY DAY to ask for a ride home. Figure it out ahead of time, wouldya? Trying to teach here, hello?

But you're welcome to call if you really need something.

At 4/30/06, 7:25 PM, Blogger Fred said...

Hey Ms. Cornelius...sorry I've been AWOL recently. It was good to read some of your posts and I'll be back soon. Only 19 teaching days left!

At 4/30/06, 8:25 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Fre-ee-ee-dddd! Fast Freddie! Missed ya!

At 5/1/06, 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I would fully support a "don't ring, don't tell" policy if cell phones were just phones. In addition to being all those things Ms. C mentions, cell phones have become a harrassment device against both teachers and fellow students. I've worked in a building before that had a huge problem with a student taking pictures of another student while she was dressing/undressing for PE. The thing with the cell phones is that it's easier to take sneaky pictures. When caught, the other student acted like she was merely searching for a number on her phone and threw a fit when the teacher asked to see the pictures she had in her phone. Big mess, big trouble.

At 5/1/06, 7:28 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Ummm, okay. I'm naive enough to have not seen anything like that yet. Yuck. And scary, too.

At 5/2/06, 6:37 AM, Blogger Mike in Texas said...

You each have a phone on your desk??? I'm simply amazed. They built us a 6.5 million dollar school and put in one phone for 40 teachers to use.

About two years ago our network administrator wanted me to go to a certain computer and tell me what the error message said. I told him I'd email it to him since I didn't have a phone. He was floored, especially since our entire phone system is IP based. It only took two years of wrangling over who was going to pay for the $100 network adapter so I could have a phone.

The irony is, now the tech dept. can remote control computers, and don't need me to be able to walk around and tell them what certain computers are doing.

I still like the phone though.

At 5/3/06, 11:27 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

It sounds like the design team for your school were real geniuses. How expensive is it to put phones into classrooms?

I taught for years in a school built for air conditioning-- two tiny windows per class-- but, yes, no AC! Do you know what 30 sweaty thriteen year old bodies smell like in September after PE class? It's not pretty.


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