Cell phones are banned by most schools, at least for the student population. Their reasoning is that students will not focus on their work if they are carrying a cell phone. They are probably right about that. And since there is nothing else to distract high school and middle school kids from memorizing the chief exports of Guatemala, I'm sure the cell phone banish is, like so many educational policies, highly effective.
The thing is, almost every kid has a cell phone. And if they don't have a cell phone, they want one. And the ban on cell phones has only served to cast them into the Hidden Zone, like the cigarette/pot contraband of yesteryear. (Ok, my year)
On the days when I pick my kids up from school, I like to count the steps their friends take before pulling their cells out. They like to glare at any adult around while holding the phone to their ear. The other day, while picking my son up early, a student I knew did just this. She walked importantly around the courtyard where the buses were gathering, frowning into the phone like a diplomat getting bad news about the war.
Since it was one of the few times I have stood in that courtyard without any other students around, I decided to ask Sarah a question that has been haunting me. "Hey," I said quietly,
"how are you, Sarah?"
She nodded, then clicked off the phone.
"Listen, can you answer a question?"
She shrugged. "Maybe."
"Who do you guys talk to as soon as you leave the building? Aren't all your friends here?"
"Yeah. I was just talking to my mom. I asked her to wash my red pants." Sarah rolled her eyes.
"And she didn't?" I asked, remembering the frown.
"Nope. She forgot."
"Is that who you usually call?"
"Yeah. None of my friends can answer now. All their phones are in their lockers."
"Right," I agreed.
My son walked toward us, his eyes riveted to his phone, his thumb moving frantically across the keypad. As I watched him check phantom messages, it occurred to me that cell phones had replaced cigarettes not only as locker contraband, but as social behavior. I was about to tell him this when Christopher told me how a student, a friend of his, had just used his camera phone to
film a teacher speaking inappropiately during a class.
"What's he going to do with the film?" I asked.
"Maybe post it onto youtube."
At that moment, I began to rethink my position on why the school administration really had banned phones from the building.