Student to Student
December 18, 2007
Despite the fact that the cellular telephone became commercially available in 1977, the "cell phone debate" has sprung up only recently at Park City High School. The two sides are generally teachers and administrators versus students, arguing over what the cell phone rule is and what it should be.
In my four years at Park City High School, the policy on cell phones has changed at least twice, and has never been a particularly clear rule. The issue reached a boiling point in the past few weeks, and both students and teachers are voicing their opinions about it.
The wall space across the hall from Jim Fleming’s room has been smothered by letters, notes, pictures, and announcements, from both teachers and students, debating "the cell phone issue."
The wall started as a sort of trophy case, with photocopies of confiscated cell phones that Ms. King, Ms. Baltzan, Ms. Bailey, Ms. Jones and other teachers taped up as part of a race who could confiscate the most cell phones.
All manner of student responses have appeared since then, including a tally-marked sheet titled, "I used my cell phone during class today to:" with categories ranging from, "Play games," to "Ignore teacher," to "Plan illegal activities," and signed, "Love, the Student Body."
A sign has been added inviting more posts. "I ask you to please leave your thoughts on the cell phone issue here . . . peacefully and non-violently protesting the cell phone rule."
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Most of the students’ posts are anonymous. Most of the teachers’ posts are not.
The students voice their concerns that their rights have been violated. The teachers reply that the students have limited rights in school.
Some students have printed out court cases in which the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of students’ rights. Some have written out arguments.
One note in blue and pink highlighter reads, "If most cell phone problems deal with DRUGS does PCHS have a cell phone problem or a DRUG PROBLEM?"
Above this note and slightly to the left, English and debate teacher Matt Nagel posts an argument: "Cell Phones Are the New ‘Opiate of the Masses,’" stating that texting is, "addictive, anti-social, neurologically damaging, expensive, and a ginormous time-suck."
Elsewhere on the wall, a student posts a hand-written essay arguing that the fourth amendment protects students’ rights in school as well as out of it, despite the fact that they are minors. Another student has highlighted the statement, "Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate."
This is the general direction in which most of the students’ arguments flow.
One anonymous person, presumably a teacher, has written, "On the issue of civil rights for the students, the moment you set foot in this building, to put it simply: You have none."
"It is my obligation to state that students do indeed have limited rights while under the jurisdiction of the school. The issue at hand is just how far the school is legally allowed to restrict the rights of its students."
Some students may feel that if the law allows confiscation of cell phones, it is wrong. The government is not an unquestionable authority. United States history and government teacher Jim Fleming has repeatedly pointed out to his classes the necessity to "always question authority."
A photo-shopped propaganda poster from communist China portrays a Chinese soldier tightly gripping a book labeled "AGENDA" above the words, "In Mission Statement We Trust." This was most likely a satirical jab at the school’s apparently totalitarian authority, likening it to that of Maoist China.
One teacher, Mrs. Christensen, displays a note with "random thoughts" including, "Is it the object, or the use of the object, that is objectionable? Should all objects with the potential for objectionable use be confiscated?" and a post script: "My judgment is that there’s more higher order thinking and learning demonstrated in this window than I have seen in a long time."
So what is the solution?
Unfortunately for those who only use cell phones to call their parents during lunch or text their younger siblings where to meet them after school for a ride home, the administration cannot pick you out and allow you alone to carry a cell phone. They have to apply one rule to the masses.
Some students have proposed that the school implement a compromise similar to the policy at TMIS: Confiscate cell phones used in class, but allow their use at lunch and in the halls. Perhaps communication doesn’t need to be so instantaneous as to impede learning, but it should be available to students at some point in the school day.