Interview with Boom: School Rules and Discipline in Changing Times

Valerie, aka Mom: Do you remember the incident where the school confiscated your cellphone?

Boom: I would've been in 10th or 11th grade, with my first cell phone,
the candy bar Nokia I traded to you a few months later.
V: A story in itself, possibly for another time! 
B: As I saw it, the point of having a cell phone was to have it at hand all the time in case it's needed. The school rule was something like "we'd prefer you didn't have them at all, but if you must because the world is changing, leave it turned off in your locker." Now,  I figured that "turned off, in my pocket, unobtrusive," was a fair compromise.

V: Certainly a reasonable compromise, but in a zero-tolerance world, probably not a wise one.

B: I had a holster for it that I didn't want to go to waste, so I had it clipped to the inside of my pocket, antenna peeking out, but still turned off, for a couple of weeks.

The teacher monitoring the lunchroom (which is the one part of the day it shouldn't even be a problem if a phone is actually on), didn't agree with my solution. I had been seen with a phone on my person, and the rules said it had to be confiscated and I had to have a Friday School.

V: Friday school?
B: A Friday School is the step between a regular detention and an In School Suspension. It's on Friday evening of course, and it's double length. Basically meant to ruin your weekend. (Joke's on them, I didn't have a life for them to get in the way of.)

If I recall correctly, running that late means there's no after school bus, and requiring you to make your own arrangements to get home after, which means parent pickup for most.

I was also not allowed to retrieve my phone from the office myself after serving my punishment.  It could only be returned into a parent's custody, which we took care of when I was picked up.
One thing I remember clearly is that the assistant principal told me
V: Ah.  You must've been standing behind me, interacting with the VP while i spoke to the receptionist.  i rather thought you'd waited in the car, or maybe i got it during a school day.

B: the assistant principal told me I was lucky to be getting off so easily, because it wasn't long ago that by state law I could have been arrested on suspicion of drug dealing for possession of a cell phone on school grounds.
 As a high school schooler, "recently" means maybe up to a year or two ago, but looking
back now, it occurs to me that  what he may have meant was "I remember when I started teaching fifteen years ago, a student having a cell phone was considered Probable Cause".

V: Yeah, i can see that.  My own main early impression of cell phones came from the Paul Harvey story in which the drug dealer's pickup deal was overheard on the neighbor's baby monitor.

Discipline in Changing Times

B: In our connected world it seems ludicrous to connect mobile devices to criminal activities,
V:  Or cars or computers: other tools essential for life as we know it, but which have been used for criminal activities.
but even I can remember a time before cellular telephones were even in reach of most middle class families who didn't need them for work.
V: Yet things were changing even at that time.   About that same time, a family we know, who DID need cellphones for work, discovered the newfangled things weren't even on the school's radar.  They gave the office "his & hers" work and cellphone numbers, with a note specifically asking that the school NEVER leave any messages on the landline voicemail.
And the first they knew when their kid had been skipping regularly was when they got a certified letter advising of the court date.  He'd just stayed home, and erased every message from the school advising the parents the kid had missed yet another day.
B: I can remember when Dad had a pager for work, (there may have been more than one. I recall becoming aware that his could receive what we now know as SMS text messages, but that may not have been the first one) and then he had a work mobile years before you and I got phones.
 It was a slow rollout because in the early days; they were expensive and unnecessary for most people, so why would a student have one? Obviously, the most likely answer is if they were a drug dealer communicating with their customers.
V:  And of course the "obvious" answer is always the right one.

A " Rock From the Sky'?

B: There's a couple of digressions that could be made here about the social and legal implications of technology reshaping our lives. Either could be illustrated, as far as I'm concerned, by a dinosaur saying, "Just because a shiny rock fell from the sky and invented winter doesn't mean we need to do anything differently. Kids today and their feathers? Sad, what kind of skills do they expect to develop with those? And fur? That's an extravagance there's simply no need to accommodate."

 V: Do you know if your school is still enforcing this rule?  i can't imagine it would work these days!  And what's your interpretation of their thought processes in having it then?

B: It was probably a township rule they were obligated to enforce. Only beginning to be out of date in the mid-00s. The spirit of it is "We don't want kids being distracted in class by calls and texts, their own or others'," and that's a worthwhile idea. I just think "It needs to be physically separated from you" is a kind of overkill that wasn't even fully bred out of education by the time I left college. (The College Board AP exams I took had the proctors collect our mobile devices for the duration, and I do consider that a fair anti-cheat measure.)

V:  How did/do you feel about the way we, your parents, handled it?  Were we fair to you?  Not fair?  Did you understand in advance that we thought it a stupid rule, but still a rule needing to be followed?

B: I don't recall the kinds of discussions we had before or after the incident. I think the school penalty was considered enough punishment and that was the end of it, aside from the talking I don't specifically remember now. I'm pretty sure I was allowed to keep my phone once we got it back.

V: That's essentially correct.   
 Of course, i do remember some of the talking. i spoke rather heatedly, for me, when i knew you were carrying the phone in defiance of the rule.  The conversation would've included thoughts like you should obey the rule, but you're a big boy, and there's nothing horrible going to happen.  If you get caught, you deal with it because we're not intervening.

What, if anything, did you learn from the incident?
B: The lesson I took away was basically that just because a rule is unfair doesn't mean you don't get in trouble if you get caught breaking it. As long as it's not hurting you, all you can do is lobby to convince the people with the authority that it's wrong and should be taken away.

V Yes, that was exactly the intended lesson.  
i knew you were carrying it. i thought it was a stupid rule - why should 20 to 50 of you wait in line to use the office phone to ask someone to come pick you up? And i'm pretty sure you knew, at least generally, that  we'd rather you followed The Rules. Not perhaps a high-impact issue, but maybe a low-key working out of civil disobedience.
An important part of our parenting strategy has always been to allow you to decide for yourself on issues that don't carry severe consequences.

B: Civil Disobedience is fair. Stupid meaningless rules that shouldn't exist are very satisfying to flout in protest.

A lot of people seem to see parenting as a choice between being a buddy and being a lawgiver, but I think the best way to describe how I was brought up was mentorship. I got advice and example on how to proceed on things, but plenty of room to make my own decisions and learn from my successes and failures.

 V: i'm sure Dad sees parenting as mentorship.  It's very much in line with how he was brought up.  In my own growing up, i had plenty of opportunity to see how my parents thought life should be lived, but we never talked about it. *
i don't think that i ever completely thought out a Philosophy of Parenting (scrapbooking, history, art, yes, but . . . )  
Mentoring, yes, that's a good way to describe it.  A parent's job is to work him/herself out of a job.

B: Though I can certainly remember a lot of conversations that turned into lectures through me having shared and received everything I wanted and one or both of you still having several minutes more advice to give. But I know I'm capable of going on about topics I've thought a lot about long past the point the person I'm talking to wants to check out too.

We've also referred to when I know what you'd tell me about what I should do/should have done differently and no lecture is required because I'm lecturing myself internally as "the tapes are playing" (That's a reference to something... I want to say Calvin and Hobbes?) Very often you've already taught the lesson and I just didn't apply it fully enough.

 As we conclude, we've been batting around the concept of whether i should mark this post under "Life-Changing" event.  But it seems that that should be your call.  DID this affair change your life?

B: Very few lessons I've learned can be considered a single event. This reinforced and refined what I already knew, but I wouldn't call it a big change. More of a course correction.

* Well, not discussions or advice.  There were lots of long lectures, when my mom wanted, but  wasn't requiring, that i do something which i didn't want. She would talk passionately for 15 minutes, a half hour, while i continued to read or whatever i wanted.
 i hope i wasn't too much into that style of parenting!

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