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Cell Phone Research Article


									                                                                      Directions: Use the article below to complete your
Name: __________________________            Period: _____             Contemporary Issue Research Notes. Highlight key facts
                                                                      that represent arguments “for” and “against.”

Cellular Telephone Bans:                                              Summary of Arguments

The issue:                                                            The issue: Should students' use of cellular telephones
Should students' use of cellular                                      (cell phones) be banned on school property? Or should
telephones (cell phones) be banned                                    students be permitted to use cell phones without
on school property? Or should
students be permitted to use cell                                        Supporters of cell phone bans say: Mobile phones serve
phones without restrictions?                                              as a distraction when they are used in a classroom
                                                                          environment. Students may use their phones for a variety
                                                                          of unsavory activities, ranging from cheating on exams and
  Table of Contents:
                                                                          picking fights to coordinating drug deals. In order to make
                                                                          schools safer and more conducive to learning, students
        Summary of Arguments
                                                                          should not be permitted to use cell phones on campus.
        The Public Embraces Wireless Technology
                                                                         Critics of cell phone bans say: For the most part,
        Parents and Students Fight to Overturn Cell Phone
         Bans                                                             students use wireless technology responsibly and without
        Ban Is Necessary, Backers Say                                    disrupting classes. Rather than institute a wholesale ban
        Cell Phone Ban Criticized                                        on cell phones, schools should punish cell phone abusers
        The Future of Cell Phone Bans                                    on a case-by-case basis. Also, parents need their children
                                                                          to have mobile phones to facilitate communication in the
  GT students must read all sections of the article. On-grade level       event of an emergency.
  students must read the underlined sections and may read the
  additional sections.                                                Almost unheard of 20 years ago, cellular telephones--
                                                                      commonly referred to as cell phones--have become
                                                                      ubiquitous in American culture. They are small, wireless
                                                                      devices that allow people to make or receive phone calls
                                                                      nearly anywhere in the U.S. In recent years, as technology
                                                                                                                              Page | 1
has advanced, cell phones have also been increasingly used          implemented outright bans, threatening offending students
for other purposes, such as taking photographs, shooting            with suspensions. School administrators in Louisiana even
short digital videos, listening to music and sending text           threatened student cell phone users with jail time for violating
messages.                                                           the bans during the 1990s, though that policy has since been
                                                                    overturned. Others, meanwhile, have tried a more lenient
According to, an online retailer that sells            approach, allowing students to carry cell phones, but
cellular devices, more than 200 million Americans own a cell        requiring that the devices be turned off while students are on
phone as of 2006. That figure, which accounts for roughly           school property.
two-thirds of the national population, perhaps explains why it
                                                                    The attempted crackdowns in states such as Texas, Virginia,
is so difficult to drive on the highway, walk along the street or
                                                                    Michigan and New York have been greeted with a mixture of
sit in a public place without seeing or hearing someone
                                                                    enthusiasm and contempt. While school administrators and
talking on their phone. Many technology experts say that
                                                                    teachers traditionally support prohibitions on cell phone use,
wireless devices have revolutionized the way Americans
                                                                    students and parents often protest the restrictions. Most
communicate with one another.
                                                                    students insist that they use their phones responsibly, and do
However, the nation's embrace of cell phone technology has          not disrupt classroom activities. Parents, for their part, assert
not pleased everyone, especially not school administrators.         that their children should have cell phones to facilitate
Indeed, as cell phone use has become more prevalent                 communication in the event of an emergency.
among American youth, schools around the country have
                                                                    As school boards debate the merits and drawbacks of cell
found themselves competing against wireless devices for
                                                                    phone bans, a number of questions have surfaced regarding
students' attention. Many teachers and principals allege that
                                                                    the relationship between young people and wireless
ringing cell phones and text-messaging students interfere
                                                                    technology. For example, can students be trusted to use their
with classroom activities and disrupt the learning process.
                                                                    cell phones in a manner that does not interfere with a
Reacting to such complaints, many school boards around the
                                                                    classroom's learning environment? Should teachers be
country have controversially cracked down on student cell
                                                                    concerned that students may be using text-messaging
phone use. [See 2006 One School's Cellular Telephone
                                                                    functions on their phones to cheat on exams? And are bans
Policy (sidebar)]
                                                                    imposed by a local school board even enforceable?
School cell phone restrictions, the first of which were
                                                                    Supporters of student cell phone bans say that wireless
implemented in the late 1980s and early 1990s, have varied
                                                                    technology distracts students from learning. Young people
in severity over the years. Some school districts have
                                                                    use their phones to chat with friends, send text messages or
                                                                                                                              Page | 2
listen to music when they should instead be concentrating on      schools also sever an important communication link between
their education, backers of bans contend. By prohibiting cell     students and parents, hindering students' ability to contact
phone use on school property, proponents say, school              their families in the event of an emergency.
administrators can increase student participation in
classroom activities and allow teachers to more easily            The Public Embraces Wireless Technology
command the attention of their students.
                                                                  After the federal government first allowed
Cell phones on school campuses are also dangerous                 telecommunications businesses to develop and run wireless
because they contribute to criminal activity and cheating,        telephone networks in the early 1980s, it was only a matter of
some ban advocates assert. Those supporters cite cell phone       time before portable communication devices were introduced
theft as a frequent problem on school grounds, and charge         to the general public. The first such device to enjoy
that students sometimes use their phones to coordinate drug       widespread popularity was the pager, a small electronic
deals. Furthermore, they warn, students can use                   apparatus that received phone messages transmitted by
technologically advanced cell phones to take photos of            radio waves.
exams or send test answers to a classmate in order to
facilitate cheating.                                              By the mid-1980s, the cell phone had joined the pager among
                                                                  the forms of wireless technology gaining public acceptance.
Opponents of school cell phone bans, on the other hand,           But unlike pagers, early cell phone models were bulky, and
assert that schools' attempts to regulate students' cell phone    not easy to carry around. For that reason, pagers remained
use are misguided. For the most part, critics say, students       the wireless communications device of choice for the
use wireless technology responsibly and refrain from making       remainder of that decade and into the early 1990s.
or receiving calls while in the classroom. Instead, students
usually use their phones before or after classes in order to      Students in schools across the country owned pagers, largely
minimize the disruption, ban opponents assert.                    due to their novelty and affordability. The devices were
                                                                  relatively unobtrusive in an academic setting, until school
While they acknowledge that some students use their phones        administrators noticed an unsettling trend: Apparently many
inappropriately on school property, critics maintain that it is   drug dealers used pagers to arrange meetings with clients.
not fair to punish all students for the actions of a few. Ban
opponents recommend that school authorities confiscate            After that use of pagers became widely known, school
phones or punish students on a case-by-case basis, rather         districts and state legislatures around the U.S. rushed to
than implement a blanket ban on all cell phone use. By            impose bans on pager use on school property. The
prohibiting student cell phone use altogether, they warn,         crackdown sparked little opposition at the time, since many
                                                                                                                         Page | 3
believed that outlawing pagers would help curb illicit drug        Parents and Students Fight to Overturn Cell Phone Bans
sales in and around schools. In the rush to ban pagers, some
school districts also instituted a prohibition on other forms of   In 1999 and 2001, two watershed events occurred in the U.S.
wireless technology, including cell phones.                        that redefined how many people thought about cell phone
                                                                   use in schools. The first incident took place on April 20, 1999,
During the 1990s, as cell phones became smaller and easier         when two students at Columbine High School in Littleton,
to transport, they enjoyed a surge in popularity among both        Colo., went on a shooting rampage, murdering 12 students
adults and students. However, students caught using the            and one teacher and wounding 24 other students before
devices on school property could be subject to harsh               committing suicide. As the rampage unfolded, several
punishment. In Florida, a student found in possession of a         students in the school contacted law-enforcement authorities
cell phone could receive a 10-day suspension from school. In       and family members via cell phone to inform them of the
Louisiana, cell phone possession on school property could          situation. Many observers said that the students' use of cell
earn the offender a 30-day stint in jail.                          phones that day helped the police respond more quickly to
Despite the severe penalties threatened in some areas,             the shootings.
growing numbers of students began carrying cell phones as          The second event took place on Sept. 11, 2001, when
the 1990s progressed. Analysts linked the trend to                 terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them in New York
technological developments in the wireless electronics             City, Arlington, Va., and Shanksville, Pa. On that day, parents
industry that resulted in smaller, cheaper and more powerful       of students in the affected areas used cell phones to get in
phones.                                                            touch with their children and make sure they had not been
As cell phones became more prevalent on school campuses            harmed. In the aftermath of the attacks, parents throughout
during the late 1990s and early 2000s, some state                  the country campaigned vigorously to have school cell phone
legislatures reconsidered their existing bans on the devices.      bans overturned, arguing that the devices could act as
Maryland and Virginia, for example, struck down statewide          lifelines in emergency situations.
prohibitions on cell phones in schools and instead gave local      An October 2001 statement released by the Yankee Group, a
school districts the power to design their own cell phone          Boston, Mass.-based consulting and research firm, predicted
policies. While some school districts in those two states          that cell phones would continue to play an important role in
elected to uphold the existing ban, others adopted a more          emergency situations. "The widespread use of wireless
relaxed attitude, and permitted students to carry cell phones      phones and other devices on [Sept. 11] will lead many
on campus so long as the devices were not used.                    consumers and corporations to view wireless technologies as

                                                                                                                           Page | 4
necessities rather than conveniences," the company               As of mid-2006, school districts in New York and Texas,
asserted.                                                        among other places, are debating whether to uphold or
                                                                 repeal cell phone bans at their schools. In many places,
But despite the well-documented usefulness of cell phones in
                                                                 observers say, the debate over student cell phone use has
emergencies, the devices remained problematic in some
                                                                 essentially become an annual ritual. But despite years of
school districts. As students' phones became more
                                                                 struggling with the issue, they say, U.S. schools seem no
technologically advanced, with text messaging and
                                                                 closer to adopting a uniform policy than they were 15 years
photographic features, school administrators fretted over the
implications. Gayle Fallon, head of the Houston (Texas)
Federation of Teachers, alleged that cell phones had             Ban Is Necessary, Backers Say
"brought new meaning to cheating," since students in her
district were apparently using their phones to share answers     Many elected leaders and school administrators contend that
on exams.                                                        school cell phone bans are necessary because students' cell
Consequently, while some schools caved in to parental            phone use interrupts the learning process. By using their
pressure and repealed existing cell phone bans, others           phones to listen to music, chat with friends, play games, take
remained steadfast in their conviction that a classroom          photos or send text messages, students become distracted
environment without cell phone interruptions was more            and cannot focus on lessons being presented by their teacher
conducive to learning. But ban or no ban, statistics released    in the classroom, supporters of a ban say. "The reality is that
by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in 2005 showed       if cell phones are allowed in our schools, they will be used,
that 45% of children between the ages of 12 and 17               and they will be used inappropriately," asserts New York City
possessed their own phone.                                       Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott.

Some technology analysts construed those figures to mean         Banning cell phone use in schools helps preserve the
that if schools were prohibiting cell phone use, they were not   "sanctity of the classroom," according to Mary Beth King, a
enforcing the bans very strictly. In fact, many schools have     trustee on the Plano, Texas, school board. If cell phones
acknowledged that they have informal "don't ask, don't tell"     were permitted on school grounds, King asserts, students
cell phone policies, whereby students are allowed to carry       would be unlikely to focus on educational activities, since
phones on school property so long as they do not let faculty     they would be busy interacting with friends, playing video
members see them.                                                games or skipping class altogether. Paul Schlichtman, a
                                                                 member of the Arlington (Mass.) School Committee,

                                                                                                                        Page | 5
High school students are social animals. A cell phone or pager can        Supporters of cell phone bans also dispute critics' assertion
very easily become the focal point of a student's day. A page could       that student cell phone use is important in the event of a
signal a meeting at the lavatory, a call to skip fourth-period class in   emergency. While many parents claim that their children
favor of a trip to Dunkin' Donuts, or any other message that              must have cell phones so that they can be reached at critical
distracts from teaching and learning.                                     moments, backers insist that parents can easily reach their
                                                                          children by contacting the school. Consequently, the
Some cell phone ban proponents oppose wireless technology
                                                                          argument that cell phones enhance students' safety is not
in school because, they say, cell phones and other devices
                                                                          valid, they say. "Should an emergency arise and a student
can foster academic dishonesty. As evidence, those backers
                                                                          needs access to a phone, they can use a phone in the office
cite accounts of students using phones with advanced
                                                                          of any of our schools," says Mike Keeney, a spokesman for
technological features to cheat on their tests. "It's becoming
                                                                          the Aldine Independent School District in Texas.
more and more of a problem," insists James McSwain,
principal of Lamar High School in Houston, Texas. Cell                    Finally, some ban proponents criticize students' devotion to--
phones, he says, "enable cheating academically. You can                   and apparent reliance on--wireless technology. Those
text-message quietly. You can take pictures."                             supporters point out that prior to the 1990s, people of all ages
                                                                          managed their daily lives without the aid of cell phones. The
Other supporters contend that cell phone bans will lead to a
                                                                          public's ability to live without the devices for most of the 20th
decrease in on-campus crime. Backers say that cell phones
                                                                          century proves that mobile phones are not essential to
are appealing to thieves because they are sometimes
                                                                          human existence, supporters contend. "Students functioned
valuable and are relatively easy to steal, due to their small
                                                                          well before cell phones," says Dave Szychlinski, former
size. Indeed, in New York City schools alone, nearly 700
                                                                          president of Wisconsin's Franklin School Board. "They're not
phones were stolen during the 2005-06 academic year,
                                                                          necessary for students in their daily activities."
according to Walcott.

Cell phones generate crime in other ways, backers of cell                 Cell Phone Ban Criticized
phone bans add. Sometimes, they claim, bullies use their
phones to arrange fights with other students, specifying a                Critics of student cell phone bans argue that, despite what
time and place where the parties should meet to fight. In                 opponents say, wireless technology can help enhance
other cases, ban supporters say, students use their phones                student safety. In the event of an emergency, such as a
to coordinate drug deals on school property. If student cell              kidnapping or a school shooting, opponents say, phones can
phone use was eliminated, proponents argue, on-campus                     act as a vital link between students and adults. Also, given
crime rates would likely drop as a result.                                that students often travel alone as they go to school in the

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morning or attend after-school activities later in the day,       While critics acknowledge that some students use their
mobile phones allow parents to check in with their children       phones inappropriately during school hours, they maintain
periodically to ensure that nothing has happened to them,         that all students should not be punished for the actions of a
opponents of bans assert.                                         few. Rather than institute a total ban on cell phone use on
                                                                  campus, school administrators should handle problems
"There are valid reasons for kids to have cell phones,"
                                                                  individually, opponents contend. "I would prefer to confiscate
remarks Ned Waterhouse, deputy superintendent of schools
                                                                  devices and charge in-school suspensions for in-school users
for Virginia's Loudon County, where cell phone policy was
                                                                  or disrupters on a case-by-case basis, but not ban
changed in early 2001 to permit students to carry turned-off
                                                                  possession by students who use them responsibly," says
cell phones. "A lot of parents want them for safety's sake," he
                                                                  Curt Johnston, a board member on Georgia's Cobb County
                                                                  School Board.
In general, many parents oppose student cell phone bans
                                                                  Some opponents assert that by banning cell phones, school
because they say that wireless technology helps give them
                                                                  boards and state legislatures are showing that they are
peace of mind regarding their children's whereabouts, which
                                                                  resistant to technological innovations and cannot adapt to
they would not otherwise have. Since mobile phones
                                                                  changes in society. Whereas ban supporters see only the
strengthen communications between parent and child, they
                                                                  problems posed by wireless technology, they say, ban
say, the devices should not be banned, but rather embraced.
                                                                  opponents see cell phones as devices full of possibility. For
"I had many an anxious night when [my children] were late
                                                                  example, they say, as technology advances, students might
and I didn't know where they were," says Susan Carr, a
                                                                  eventually use their phones as an academic tool. Indeed,
parent of a student at Manhattan Hunter Science High School
                                                                  according to some technology experts, mobile phones may
in New York City. "I no longer have to endure that. Why
                                                                  eventually have uses as calculators, dictionaries and Internet
should I?"
                                                                  browsers that can be used for research.
The U.S. student population, which is almost uniformly
                                                                  "I believe it is our job to teach people how to use technology
opposed to cell phone bans, says the prohibitions are
                                                                  effectively," says Dick Nepon, a former member of the
unnecessary because most students use their phones
                                                                  Allentown (Pa.) School Board. "It's not our job to make
responsibly while on school property. If students are told to
                                                                  administration's task easier at the expense of slowing
turn their phones off during class, most comply, opponents
                                                                  technology's intrusion into public school life."
say. "We just follow the rules," says Erin Banks, a junior at
Houston's Lamar High School. "I leave mine in my purse."

                                                                                                                          Page | 7
The Future of Cell Phone Bans

With cell phones no longer being the novelty that they were at
the dawn of the 1990s, people are gradually becoming more
aware of when it is appropriate--and when it is inappropriate--
to use them in public. "We see that people are beginning to
put up boundaries and evolve social norms about when and
where they should use their cell phones," says Delly Tamer,
chief executive officer (CEO) of She adds,
"Bathrooms, movies and theaters are out. Cars and
supermarkets are in." But what about schools? [See 2006
Suggested Guidelines for Using a Cellular Telephone
Responsibly (sidebar)]

Since school boards and state legislatures have been
wrestling with the concept of school cell phone bans for more
than a decade, observers say that it is unlikely that a
definitive national policy will emerge in the coming years. Part
of the problem, they say, is that both sides of the debate are
strongly convinced that the other side is wrong.

While teachers and administrators largely view mobile
phones as nuisances that must be restricted, parents and
students view cell phones as convenient tools of modern life
that come in handy during emergency situations. The only
element of the ongoing debate that is not disputed by either
side, it seems, is that cell phones are growing more and more
prevalent in American society.

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