Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: John Burroughs High School
students use their cell phones a lot, yes, but most of the time, they
aren’t talking to their parents.
Such student-to-parent communication is what countless JBHS
students would like the public and the Burbank Unified School
District board to believe the phones are for, because it cloaks the
students’ on-campus cell phone use in the dual guises of parental
concern and student safety. And who wants to quibble with those?
But any casual visitor to the campus -- not to mention the
teachers and administrators who have to deal with the nuisance all
day -- will tell you that most of those cell-phone conversations are
friends chatting with friends about who-knows-what. While there’s
nothing wrong with that, they don’t need to be doing it during class
time, or making themselves late to class because they need to finish
some oh-so-important call.
And it emphatically does NOT necessitate a change to JBHS’
cell-phone policy, which if anything should be toughened or --
ideally -- thrown out altogether in favor of a policy that keeps the
phones out of students’ hands and in a safe place until the school
day is over.
Way back when -- 10 years ago, say -- this wouldn’t have been an
issue, because cellular phones were clunky, expensive things with
dicey reception. Students didn’t carry them around. Most adults
didn’t, either. Yet somehow we all muddled along, calling each other
from home, using a pay phone or -- Heaven forbid -- speaking to one
another in person.
Now, though, you can buy a flip phone that also records and sends
pictures and text messages, displays and sends e-mail, and surfs the
Internet, all from the palm of your hand. And with that improved
technology comes a wrongheaded sense of entitlement: We should be
able to employ this technology whenever and wherever we want,
circumstances notwithstanding, because we can.
In fact, it goes beyond that: More than being able to use our
phones whenever and wherever we wish, we think we have a right to use
them. In the case of JBHS, that sense of entitlement has students
arguing that a more restrictive cell-phone policy would -- get this
-- violate their 1st Amendment free-speech protections.
Putting aside the uncomfortable, not to mention surreal, image of
the Constitution’s framers mulling advances in cellular-phone
technology 200 years hence, this free-speech argument is simply
ridiculous. No one’s trying to stop students from talking. They’re
trying to stop them from creating a nuisance, intruding on
instruction -- which is why they’re at school in the first place --
and wasting time.
At the risk of sounding stuck in the late-1980s, here’s a thought:
If a parent needs to get hold of their child due to an emergency, how
about calling the school office and having a message sent to the
And if it’s not an emergency -- a parent will be late picking up a
student, for example, or a student wants to tell a parent his
after-school plans have changed -- is there some reason a call about
that can’t wait until after the last bell rings and the student has
retrieved his cell phone from its holding place?
Students are at school to go to class and pay attention. That’s
their job until 3 p.m. each day, after which they’re free to jabber
on a phone all they want. Better to have them relinquish their phones
to the administration at the start of each day -- or better yet, not
bring them to school at all -- and go back to the Stone Age
(in-person conversations and messages) in case of emergency.
There’s no such thing as a “right” to a cell-phone conversation,
and JBHS students should remember it.