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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lifting NYC's Phone Ban

The City will lift its ban on cellphones come March.  Schools will need to formulate policies to regulate their usage.  For parents and students at schools with metal detectors, this probably was a long time in coming.  It will even the playing field.  No longer will so many students be forced to pay daily sums to shop owners to store their phones for them.

Although phones were outlawed at my school, in the absence of metal detectors, most students had them in tote.  The unwritten rule was to conceal them and no one will know.  In the early years of this new technology, I confiscated misused phones and deposited them in the Dean's Office.  Repeat offenders could not receive their phones back until a parent came up to the school.  Poof!  So much of the social life of a teenager was gone just like that!  Word spread like wildfire.  Better not risk it.   

After returning from a child-care leave, I was gently taken aside and told that teachers can no longer take phones.  They must call for a dean.  The dean would either confiscate the phone or talk sternly to the kid.  Since I, myself, have been blessed with the power to talk sternly, I handle situations myself.    

Even when phones were not permitted in our school, they still managed to be stolen.  Teachers even had phones stolen.  Everyone is advised to guard his property.  For purposes of statistics (and we all know statistics never lie), disappearing phones are counted as lost, not stolen.  Someone's loss, however, is often another person's gain. Since phones aren't supposed to be in schools, students had to grit their teeth and bear the loss.  Some cried.  

So how, if at all, might the new policy change things?  It remains to be seen.  Will stolen phones be investigated?  Will the number of phones stolen, or, should I say, "lost" skyrocket?  Will students begin to bring a host of other devices to schools?  Will they try to be hooked up to one thing or another underneath a hood?  If teachers or deans confiscate phones will they be liable if the property is subsequently "lost" or stolen?  What if the dean's office is raided and all the phones in its possession are robbed?

One thing for sure:  Teachers will have to be "highly effective" in monitoring students.  For many schools, this may be an awakening.  They will learn how the giant pocketbooks provide near-perfect camouflage netting for phones.  Boys may turn their attentions to a wool hat on their desk.  Teachers will soon learn the magic that can be worked by dexterous, young fingers beneath a desk.  They will learn to note the tell-tale signs of glowing pockets in dark corners.  Students will claim to use phones as mirrors,  calculators and clocks.  There may be frequent calls from Grandma.  "My Grandma, what a long call you have!"

The phone has great potential to disrupt education.  Oops!  There go some more VAM scores!  Kids will attempt to text at the wrong times.  They will establish rendezvous points and then ask for the pass.  Regretfully, as well as social calls, there will be drug deals and other unsavory business transacted.  Students will have gained a great tool for cheating.  One kid can surreptitiously click a photo of his answer sheet and instantaneously forward it to friends and family.  How many students will have a bathroom emergency at the exact time they must write an essay response for their test?  Google Chrome may be only a flush away.  Phones may enhance bullying.

Phones are not completely evil, however.  Most students will listen to reason and put it away.  Most students do not want their parent called.  Most parents do not want their child's phone interfering with school.  Whether we confiscate misused phones or not, the threat of doing so can put a major damper on a student's day.  Hopefully, schools will confiscate misused phones--when all else fails.  Doubtless, there will be plenty more contracts to sign about phone policies and liabilities.

If I was the parent of a teenager, I would want my kid to have a phone.  My kid would, doubtless, want it, too, but for reasons completely different from my own.  As a teacher, you may want students to have phones despite the need for constant vigilance.  When you want to Google a fact or find additional information, the kids' phones are entirely handy.  Their internet speed puts the school to shame.  And, I won't even mention the dexterity of young hands on the device.  It might frighten you!

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