I’m Not Changing My Mind About Cell Phones…

Regardless of what transpired at school yesterday,  I am not changing my mind regarding cell phones at school.  See the posts here and here for my earlier thoughts on this topic.

Here’s what happened.  A fifth grade girl got on the bus at the last stop on the way to school.  There were no open seats next to other girls, so she was forced to sit next to a fifth grade boy.  A group of fifth grade boys thought that was funny, so they started teasing the two kids who were sharing the seat.  The pre-adolescent teasing took a turn for the worse when the boys yanked out their cell phones and started taking pictures of the “couple.”

The boys were adding graphics such as hearts to the pictures on their phones, and they were threatening to send the pictures to other fifth graders’ cell phones.  The girl was covering her face and telling the boys to stop.  They continued with their taunting, taking pictures and teasing the two kids, even as she pleaded for them to stop.  It ended when the bus arrived at school a few minutes later.

This caused some big time embarrassment and grief to both the girl and the boy in the seat.  The girl was especially upset, and she immediately told her teacher who shared the story with me.  I, of course, dealt with these boys in an appropriate manner, and I spoke with each of their parents at length.  Fortunately, all of the parents were horrified at the behavior of their sons, and I think these boys are in for a long weekend at home.

I have two big issues with this poor behavior.

First, is the abuse of cell phones on school property including the school bus. The school is responsible for the students’ safety and their behavior on the bus.  We allow cell phones at school so the students can use them to contact their parents in case of an emergency or to change or discuss plans.  The phones should be turned off and stored in backpacks during the school day unless a teacher chooses to use the phones for academic purposes.  That has not yet happened in the elementary school, but I think the day is coming.

This group of students abused the privilege of bringing the phones to school, they used the phones to harass (sexually?) other students, and they invaded others’ right to privacy.  This type of behavior is what causes knee jerk reactions from those who want cell phones banned from school.

Please, do not ban cell phones from schools! Instead, use these examples of poor behavior to teach children to use their phones (and other technologies) responsibly and appropriately.  Teach children the positive uses of technology so that they respect the power they hold in their hands. Instead of eliminating cell phone use in school, use cell phones more in school.  Teach children how they can take and send pictures that relate to the curriculum, that have merit, and that show creativity.  Give children the freedom to explore the uses of technology with the proper guidance and instruction.  I believe that once kids respect the technology, the examples of irresponsibility, cyberbullying, and “sexting” will diminish.

My second big issue with this incident is that the female victim repeatedly told a group of boys to stop their inappropriate behavior, yet they continued to taunt her.  She held her hands over her face, pleading with the boys to stop, but to no avail.

We MUST teach boys that when a girl says “STOP” they have to stop. In other words “No means No.” As the father of two daughters, you can imagine my horror when this realization hit me.  If this is the fifth grade version of sexual harassment, imagine what the high school version might look like – A group of boys surrounding a girl who is begging for them to STOP.  They don’t.  It’s all good fun until…

The image sends chills down my spine.

Regardless of yesterday’s incident on the bus, I am not changing my mind about cell phones in school.


11 thoughts on “I’m Not Changing My Mind About Cell Phones…

  1. Dave, many administrators would have leaped on this situation as a perfect example of why cell phones should be banned. Good for you for examining the root causes, rather than the symptoms, and seeking to address them. It may not be as politically expedient a stance to take, but all in all, I think it’s the right one.

  2. Unfortunately, useful tools are used to complete bad or evil motives. Good people also make bad choices from time to time. The phones didn’t make these boys behave poorly. If taking cell phones away would fix bullying, I’d be the first administrator to pull their sim cards. We must use these examples to teach and train. Thanks for honestly sharing.

  3. I’m so impressed with the thoughtful response to this situation. I think many (most?) administrators would have immediately banned cell phones and not even begun to think about the deeper issue here. How often do we (teachers as well) do that? I appreciate the reminder that it is so easy to make the quick choice and not address the real causes of a problem.

  4. Dear Dave

    I love your honesty in these posts. Education is a messy thing and your openness in the dilemmas of the classroom shows an integrity that is useful to us all as.


  5. This is story is a great example of why schools need to address proper cell phone etiquette in the same way we address bullying, empathy, or other areas of character education. Students are given cell phones without much regard to how they can be used for harassment. I completely agree that if we teach students to use their cell phones for constructive purposes that they’ll see it as a valuable tool. Kids will always make poor choices. Taking away the phone would be an appropriate consequence from the parent, but not the school. Thanks for your post. I always learn a great deal from you.

  6. Dave,
    Barry Schwartz describes the inability of school administrators to “think” and when it comes to compliance with zero tolerance policies. It’s refreshing to see you “thinking” and recognizing that the problem is not the phones–it’s unacceptable and harassing behavior of these children that needs to be addressed. Anyone who believes that situation have been any less traumatic for that girl without cell phones is clearly missing the point. Careful, you’re giving principals a rational reputation! Kudos to you.

  7. Great response. We wouldn’t ban books because they were thrown in a fight, or pencils due to a pencil stabbing (ok, personal primary experience with those), why would we ban the single most powerful information and communication device we have because of mis-use?

    Real educators take each of these situations as an opportunity to teach. As an opportunity to better prepare their students for the challenges of their future. Those who seek to control rather than educate prefer to ban, and spend their time whining about things they refuse to engage in.

  8. I whole-heartedly agree! Did people call for a ban to paper and pens when some people started writing hate letters or drawing crude pictures? If they did, well obviously they didn’t succeed. Definitely, it wasn’t the phones that made these kids misbehave – no doubt similar behaviour would have occurred without phones (there just wouldn’t have been the photos taken). Congratulations on having the confidence and knowledge to stick with your guns on this issue.

  9. Bravo. It’s wonderful to read the reflective, sincere and intelligent perspective of an educational leader. Looking at the actual behavior and the root of that behavior is the key. Teaching children the two things you suggest should be the focus. No more band-aid mentality. Good post!

  10. Dave
    I think your honesty, your willingess to share the messy work of leadership in schools is inspiring.

    I too as a principal of a school in Melbourne Australia have encountered boys using cell phone [we call them mobile phones] in the playground teasing others by taking photos and writing words on the photo – they stopped short of sending them – just showing them to others.

    The boys in question spent some time in my office working [2 days] after having conversations with parents but I do worry when one parent starts to question my processes rather than the actions of their child.

    Keep up the reflections – thanks for sharing your messy, tiring, emotional yet important work

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