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The Cell Phone Phenomenon

The present administration of our nation regularly chants, "No child shall be left behind." The rhetoric is touching. In theory I think the President and his merry band of misguided advisors mean well. However, the ...

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The present administration of our nation regularly chants, "No child shall be left behind." The rhetoric is touching. In theory I think the President and his merry band of misguided advisors mean well. However, the reality is that many young people with special needs are not only getting left behind, but are getting buried in the rubble of an inept system of education that is more fixated on students' SAT scores than on his/her total growth and development as a human being.

We have a growing number of young people dropping out of school or being creatively thrown out because of discipline, poor choices and possibly because they are not equipped to manage within an antiquated system of learning that shackles rather than liberates.

Many of our students beginning school this year will be set up for failure. Why? The system of education is not keeping pace with the major changes in the developmental and emotional patterns of our children. Many school districts are still approaching students like it was 1953.

Life has radically changed in fifty years, in twenty years. We know so much more about behavior and human development. Our children are exposed to so much more before they even start school.

Technology has given our children access to information that they are not emotionally, socially and humanly equipped to deal with. The cooperative spirit that once existed between parents and teachers has died. Oftentimes teachers are fighting an uphill battle. Many concerned parents feel like they are voices crying out in the wilderness.

If we want to protect our children from failure and empower their positive growth and development, we need to revive that old, but scared partnership that once existed among parents, teachers and communities.

We must cease being at cross-purposes with each other. Parents need to support the student code of conduct, especially the section that talks about parental responsibility. If our son or daughter is found in non-compliance, we must not engage in an adversarial relationship with faculty and administration. Our children must be held accountable. For every choice we make, there is a consequence. Cutting corners, rescuing or making lame excuses will not help our children to learn and grow from their mistakes. Whether it is writing a false excuse for your son cutting a class or writing a paper for your child so his/her assignment is not late and they will not be penalized.

All schools should seriously consider banning cell phones. In principle, they are helpful in an emergency, which rarely occurs. Unfortunately, they have become a major distraction and a nuisance. They go off inappropriately in class, in church at school assemblies, whenever. If the student is not in a position to respond, he or she tends to be distracted and non-focused until he or she can respond.

That distraction can be costly. Students miss assigned work, notes and important announcements. Some students become so obsessed that they need to leave the room so they can hear firsthand the voice mail that has been left.

Now the melodrama begins. More often than not there is nothing urgent or important that needs to be attended to. It is usually a fellow student who is bored trying to engage another bored fellow student to cut, hang out or meet up after school. Often students get distracted from getting back to their next class on time. They get side tracked talking about gossip and what will be happening on the weekend.

It is frightening that the cell phone phenomenon is filtering down to late elementary school and middle school students. If you don't have a cell phone, you are made to feel like you are an oddity.

Although it is against the law, many high school students who drive, drive and talk on the phone without a headset. They become preoccupied and genuinely run the risk of getting hurt or hurting another.

Probably the worst-case scenario I became aware of was a situation involving four juniors in high school. It was late in the week in the fall. They were bored. They connected early in the day during class with cell phones. They agreed to blow off the afternoon, meet at a local park with a couple six packs of beer. Two of the four agreed to get the beer. They had false ID. The other two were going to get some food and meet them there.

The two guys assigned to the beer run decided to drink and serve some of their refreshments en route. They were talking on the phone and drinking. The driver got distracted and caused a serious accident. Both boys were seriously injured and a mother and her two small children were sent to a local hospital in critical condition.

The boys responsible were back in school by the end of the week. One of the little girls was in a coma. Doctors feared she was going to die.

This potentially tragic story ended with the little girl fully recovering. Unfortunately, the boys involved were frightened for a few weeks, but are back to cutting, drinking and partying during school. The parents have taken the "what can you do, they are basically good boys" approach. I am sure they are basically good boys. In thirty-one years of teaching, I have not met a young person I did not like. However, I have met many young people who are reckless and think they are invincible as well as parents who choose not to be responsible.

It is hard to parent today. We have to stop making excuses and excusing ourselves from being responsible.

What if the little girl in the coma died? What would the victimizers say to her Mom, "Sorry, I didn't mean to do it?"