New York City Backs Off School Cell Phone Ban, Though Some Officials Still See Cellular Tech As The Worst Sort Of Foul Devilry

from the my-cell-phone-made-me-do-it dept

Roughly nine years ago, then New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg decided to impose an outright ban on cell phones in city schools, proclaiming that the devices were both a distraction and a safety issue (the latter never really being explained coherently). The ban, of course, wasn’t well-received by parents who were suddenly unable to reach their children, nor was it well-received by students who were just truly entering the smartphone era. To make things worse, the city developed a revenue stream whereby students could store their phones outside of school (in “Pure Loyalty Electronic Device Storage” vans, to be precise) — for $1 per day.

Fast forward nearly a decade and Mayor de Blasio — the first New York City Mayor in city history to have a child in public school while in office — has decided to do away with the ban. In what seems like a far more sensible and streamlined policy decision, it will now be up to individual schools to enact and enforce their own cell phone policies. That’s not to everybody’s liking; some school officials still apparently see cell phones as foul devilry that somehow magically amplify all of the very worst aspects of human behavior:

“But the phones, which would be regulated on a school-by-school basis, can pose numerous problems. Some principals, particularly those of schools with high rates of behavioral problems, have privately said they oppose lifting the ban. They worry about the potential for cheating and the risk of theft. When fights break out, they say, students with cellphones in their pockets can summon a much larger crowd.”

That’s right, because cheating, theft and fights are the sort of things that just don’t normally happen in the Utopian New York City public school district. One anonymous principal agrees, similarly telling the Times that allowing cell phones means not only more theft (again, because nothing valuable normally gets stolen in schools), but oddly will also result in an increase in “staged fights” for the benefit of social media:

“A principal of a high school with metal detectors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly on the matter, said he was extremely disappointed with the decision. ?This increases the potential for incidents,? he said, adding that iPhones make appealing targets for theft, which would be recorded as a major incident on a student?s record. “Kids are going to stage fights so they can put up posts on social media,” he said.”

Staged fights? How about oh, just making them stop fighting (or pretending to fight) like we used to do way back in the old-timey times? Or does cellular radiation now somehow magically mutate child DNA empowering them with superhuman strength, preternatural speed and omniscience? Banning cellular tech completely because somebody might video a fight doesn’t seem like much of an argument, especially in light of the benefits cell phones bring in moments of disaster or emergency, something the next decade’s sure to hold no shortage of.

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Comments on “New York City Backs Off School Cell Phone Ban, Though Some Officials Still See Cellular Tech As The Worst Sort Of Foul Devilry”

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jupiterkansas (profile) says:

If a student can cheat with a cellphone, then perhaps what you’re teaching isn’t really useful anyway since anyone with a phone can look it up. We need to revise learning in an age when simple information is so readily available so that people know how to make creative and beneficial use of that information. That’s where the future lies.

But I believe the best way to fix public schools is for public officials to enroll their kids in public schools – and join the PTA. Kudos to the mayor for that.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can think of a dozen ways to fix this problem that don’t involve banning phones.

1. smash the cameras on all students’ phones
2. give only vampire tests that don’t show up in photos
3. ban friends
4. automatic F on all tests after the first period
5. give out all answers ahead of time to level the playing field
6. give the test to everyone at the same time (this may require a classroom that is larger on the inside)
7. ban cell phone batteries
8. cut off students’ fingers after the test
9. oral exams only
10. pass out marijuana at the end of the test – then students will be too high to bother cheating

Well I did most of the work, maybe you can come up with a couple more.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: And tests are still meaningful how?

In the old days, when the state of the art of cheating was shoulder-surfing, teachers merely had different versions of the test. They could have different versions across periods, and even, with today’s technology, have different versions for each student.

But, and I ask this as someone who couldn’t fill out a scan-tron with a #2 pencil to save my life, exactly what is the purpose of standardized tests, except to determine what students are good at taking tests?

Because we’ve long since determined that they don’t show which students learned the material. And given that grades often depend more on a student’s relationship with the teacher than anything to do with the material, it’s frustrating and disappointing that we’re still using the lecture / lab model of academics anyway.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


Parents who think this way are a real problem. They should remember one of the harsh truths about parents (symbolic or otherwise): parents tend to take both too much credit and too much blame for how their children turn out. Outside of being abusive, parents have much less of an effect on who their children become than they think.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: I CAN'T WIN.

Gotta disagree here. Parents have a huge effect on who their children become. The issue is that most of the direct conscious decisions parents make only have a small effect. Yes, much of the behavior kids learn is from their environment and community – but remember that the people those kids are around the most during their development are their parents.

It’s not that your kid turned out ok because you took him to a museum or helped him with his homework – but that you’re the type of person that would want to take your kid to a museum and help him with his homework that matters more, because its the type that impacts all the things you do.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I CAN'T WIN.

Yes, that may be the case. However, there are far, far too many cases of kids being raised by terrible parents and turning out awesome as well as kids raised by great parents turning out to be terrible for me to put a lot of weight on parental actions. Again, excluding cases of abuse (physical or otherwise).

I think the truth is that human development is enormously complex and it’s the next best thing to impossible to know how much of an effect any particular influence has on children. Too many variables are involved, including the baseline personality of the child. That’s why I don’t claim that parents have little or no effect, but that parents usually think the effect they have is greater than is the usually the case.

“but remember that the people those kids are around the most during their development are their parents.”

This is not usually true. The people most young school aged children interact with the most are their friends and schoolmates.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I CAN'T WIN.

However, there are far, far too many cases of kids being raised by terrible parents and turning out awesome as well as kids raised by great parents turning out to be terrible for me to put a lot of weight on parental actions.

Be careful with drawing conclusions like that. Among all the people you know or have ever learned anything about, there are bound to be many who are exceptions to whatever the rule is, just because of normal variance. If 80% of people with “good” parents turn out “good” and vice-versa, that’s still a lot of people who turn out the opposite way, more than enough to muddy the picture. Yet 80% would be way above the margin for a significant effect.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: There's also the matter that parents are also a product.

As the embittered 70s / 80s child of neglegent parents I’ve had to come to terms with the truth that they were both expected to work as well as parent, and that exhausted, overworked adults make for grouchy, disinvested parents, and that here in the United States, this has been an increasingly accepted norm.

These days, workers are expected to work for less, commute futher, pay more into their work-related expenses, skip lunches and work odd hours, holidays and overtime with no additional compensation. In the service industries.

A given mid-twenties single mother in California works two jobs, about sixty hours a week in order to provide food and shelter. How much quality mom time do we think her toddler gets?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: There are no good police officers either.

So far all I’ve seen of school systems is the same kind of corruption / abuse problems that we see in hospitals and prisons.

These days, if you are endorsing the system we have, you are endorsing tolerance of the continued abuse. You’re part of the problem.

Until the our school systems go through drastic reform, and modernize to adapt to the different ways that students learn, and are prevented from being an institutionalized abuse system where might or authority preys openly on the meek, you’re part of the problem for participating in it.

I suggest considering a different career, or finding a better vector by which to enrich children’s lives, because as things are, they are famished for enrichment.

Anonymous Coward says:

If parents need to be in contact with their kids they can call the front office and get the message to the student or have the student come to the office to talk on the phone.

Banning cell phones is best left to the individual schools. If there is a problem with distractions, cheating, theft, etc. the Principal of the school is in a better position to implement a solution to the problem than a blanket ban by the city.

Anonymous Coward says:

Am I the only person here that thinks ringing phones in the middle of lectures, business meetings, tel-conferences, et al is not only rude but inappropriate? I’m not in favor of a flat out ban, but teaching children manners about technology will go a long way to better our future and their future in the real workspace. I try to balance out cheating, because I’m not sure whether real world research vs I can’t add 2+2 because the computers are down is a legitimate excuse either way, as it seems that SATs are now allowing calculators. Knowing the flower references in Genji Monogatari and their symbolic meanings vs that the only Fibonacci twin primes are 3, 5 and 13 are vastly different for the fields of study. Sadly, I’m just a math and nippon geek that works in networking, so neither really matter to me irl. But the point remains, what is core knowledge that everyone needs and what is something you should just look up?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“what is core knowledge that everyone needs and what is something you should just look up?”

In my opinion, core knowledge is about how to think, how things work, how to solve problems, etc. Established facts and figures can always be looked up. The important thing is that people know what to do with those facts and what facts they need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Use a cell phone jammer. I had a homemade one I used in college to silence one annoying cellphone from another who also needed it for her work, but it was annoying when it rang in the classroom, so I built my own homemade jammer, and that took care of the problem, and she never had any clue her cell phone was being jammed.

Just build your own jammer. I did that back in college to silence annoying cellphones. I kept it hidden in my backpack, and other students never knew their phones were being jammed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I know right. I mean back in the dark ages of the last few millennia before cell phones came along in the early aughts schools were a flat-out war-zone and nobody had the ability to call for help. Kids and teacher died by the thousands, and all seemed lost.

But now, thanks to cell phones school shootings and other ruckusi have not only gone way way down, but those that perpetrate them have become far less effective at achieving their goals.

Not sure what the plural of ruckus is, so i’ll go with ruckusi.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Core Knowledge

As a programmer, I realized it was more important to know that a think could be done, rather than how to do it. You can always look up the how.

There are caveats, of course, especially if you want your process to be accomplished within a given time frame. 3D projections of physics simulations with countless triangles and post-render processes created real-time at sixty frames-per-second tends to require some awareness of the how just to know what your constraints are.

But generally, it’s less important to know one of the several proofs of the pythagorean theorem than it is to know that it can be proven, and eligantly.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, all the parent has to do is tell the school they are going to allow their children to have a cell phone in school anyway, to hell with the rules.

When I used to chat on CB years ago, there was one woman on their who let her sons carry handeld CBs to school, despite the rules, becuase she wanted them to be able to get a hold of her if they had to and to hell with the rules

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Cellphones are a menace to School faculty the samw way they are to police

When a teacher is being abusive or beligerent, a student can video the event and post it online, allowing all the world to see the sort of thing that goes on unchallenged within schools.

Some of these can be found on YouTube, usually taken by clandestine phones.

If you can effectively remove cellphones from school grounds, then the school’s fine reputation as well as that of its faculty, is preserved.

Keeping up appearances.

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