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Wednesday, May 11, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Snohomish County opinion

Cellphonics, beware: I've got you in my sights

Special to The Seattle Times

The hunt begins when I spot the inattentive prey. Nearly always, the young beast has his or her head down and therefore does not spot me as I slyly move toward the lair. I keep the other beasts distracted with rhythmic patter, and when I'm close enough, I pounce.

"Give me that cellphone!"

At this point, the beast, caught with phone in lap, looks up with a startled and guilty expression — clueless in the classroom. He quickly conveys via text message that he has been nailed and reluctantly hands over the offending instrument.

Of course, a few die-hard cellphone addicts — I call them cellphonics — refuse to relinquish their toys.

"No way I'm giving you my phone," the cellphonic says.

"You know it's against school rules, right?"

"So?"

"So if you don't give me the phone, I'm going to send you to the office." I emphasize the last two words in a manner that suggests he will be beaten with flashlights at this locale.

A few hopelessly addicted cellphonics keep their phones and take their punishment. Either way, I chalk up another kill. I've taken down 141 cellphonics in five years, which I believe is a state record.

Cellphones are the mortal enemy of modern teaching. Not to mention an insult. The implication is that students would rather communicate with a friend than listen to what I, an educated Teacher Man, have to say. What gall!

Am I taking this too personally? Perhaps. I've even resorted to deception and fright tactics. For example, I recently opened an issue of Scientific American — the actual article I flipped to was on robots — and looked troubled. "It says here," I intoned gravely, "that cellphones cause inner-ear damage, speech impediments and shrink your brain!"

My freshmen students bought it and exchanged worried glances; my junior students were skeptical and demanded to see the article themselves. I was at once pleased by their critical thinking and dismayed because they uncovered my ruse.

Cellphone use is spreading through schools like a virus. Walking around our campus, it's not uncommon to see a group of cellphonics in a circle, the very symbol of familial kinship. What are they discussing? World peace? The opposite sex? No, the best cellphone plans. Or worse yet, each has a phone pressed to her ear and is not communicating within the circle — just with some cellphonic somewhere else.

While I understand the urgent need for teens to communicate, I would prefer they do it in person, face to face. A face in a phone doesn't count. To really communicate, you need to be physically present.

Cellphones also abet and contribute to cheating and tardiness in school, to name just two ills. And teachers tire of the excuses. A typical one I hear is, "My mom is calling." What cold-hearted teacher wants to keep a young person from communicating with his mother?

A few weeks ago, a student who has been guilty of numerous cellphonic violations — the sly peek, the ringing backpack — used that very excuse. I picked up his phone and recognized the name on the caller I.D. His "mom" was one of my fourth-period students.

Where I teach, we officially allow cellphone use at lunch and before and after school. Sounds reasonable, but the fact is, I could throw a handful of pennies down the hall between classes and each one would hit a kid holding a cellphone.

We need a strict policy. We can't keep cellphones out of packs and purses, but we can control them in classrooms. Students caught violating cellphone rules the first time should receive a detention; the second time they should be suspended and be penalized a letter grade. This would send a clear message to cellphonics and their parents that we're taking the issue seriously.

My students think I don't understand because I don't own a cellphone. But I did own one a few years ago when I lived aboard a sailboat at the Everett Marina. I tell my cellphonics that I accidentally dropped it overboard one day, and invariably they let out a collective gasp. They gasp again when I tell them I feel far more free without the damn thing.

John Foley is an English teacher at Cascade High School in Everett. He lives in Everett.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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