Middle School Cell Phones

Our middle school has seen some significant changes in the last few years. Of course, that’s not surprising, with Covid-19, students bouncing back and forth from in-person learning to remote like a heated pickle ball match. Getting them readjusted to a classroom environment has been resembling of potty-training toddlers. “I have to now sit on that!”

In the coming weeks, another rude awakening is going to cause their mouths to drop open, aghast at the news that is coming. For many, it will be their first experience in recent memory that they have been separated from their BFF, their cell phone. In my classroom, cell phones are to be placed in the “Cell Phone Day Care” basket or kept in their backpacks. Obliging students are rewarded with a piece of candy at the end of class. Kind of a delayed prize for surviving an hour without the “friend” they like to chum up with.

The forewarning of the coming change resembled the fear that many people in 1999 had toward the arrival of a new millennium. As the clock ticked toward midnight on December 31, 1999, there were doomsday prophecies, people stocking up on bottled water and other supplies, and fear and trepidation flowed through the minds of anxious, nail-biting adults. A cellphone-less school day is the Y2K equivalent for adolescents.

My language arts class is just beginning a section on writing an argumentative essay. Students will choose a position on a controversial issue such as gun control, whether marijuana should be federally legalized, should prison inmates be allowed to vote, should vaccinations be mandatory, should gas-powered cars be replaced by electric vehicles, and a number of other choices they can write an essay about. When the hint of the cell phone restrictions caught their attention several of them wanted to write their essay on the topic. I agreed to it, as long as they looked at the counter-argument of why they should not be available during the school day.

I remember when Coca-Cola changed their soft drink, eliminating Classic Coke, and the uproar as a result of that decision. That was just a tiny tremor compared to the tsunami of cell phones being washed away from the palms of middle school students. A couple of the students said they would change schools, or switch to the online academy. Another student, reminding me of Thomas Jefferson giving an impassioned oratory in the midst of the Constitutional Convention, charged that the school was becoming a dictatorship and it would lead to anarchy and other signs of the demise of modern civilization.

Most of them were not ready to hear that our school was really late arriving at the party or, in their opinion, the execution. Other schools have gone to the cell phone ban and seen the rediscovery of the wonders of education that have arrived once again, after a period of mourning. Academic performance has improved substantially and students have discovered that if one of their parents needs to contact them, just like in the old days, a phone call can be made to the school office and a message relayed.

There was a relevant comeback from one student. He said, “What about teachers? Will they need to have their cell phones in their backpacks?” Good point! I’ll have to restrict my playing of Wordle until when I’m sitting on our couch in the evening and watching an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

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