Monday, October 17, 2011

Cell Phones, A Life Line in Hard Economic Times

      Those who continue to drag their heels in utilizing the value of cell phones in education and even those of us who embrace them, realize that sometimes not all students have phones.  Education never wants to exclude, however, this is not a valid argument against cell phones.  It is a fact that must be managed, just like we manage when students loose their text book, forget their pencil, or are not paying attention in class.  The value of cell phones for learning far outweighs the need to make sure all students have access to a phone when it enhances the lesson or learning.
      According to a recent Marist Poll, 94% of American households have access to a cell phone.  Additionally, sharing phones is very common.  My students will use their mom's, friend's, or neighbor's phone when theirs is out of minutes, broken, or there isn't money to pay the bill.  In fact, having access to a phone seems to be viewed as a basic necessity in most students' minds.  At Delta Opportunity School, the students who struggle the most with basic necessities (i.e. food, home, transportation), are those that have a phone and have it for very serious reasons (alarm clock, way to contact potential employers, doctors, etc).  Amanda, whose story is below, used her phone as a life line when there was no home, no family, no support.  We cannot let the "not all students have phones" argument stop us from utilizing their educational value.  Most students do have phones and when there isn't access, there are many opportunities for sharing, collaborating, or even having a couple text enabled pay as you go phones available for less than the cost of a text book.  By banning cell phones, we exclude all students from the ability to use their communication method of choice for learning, for connecting globally, and for blending school and life.
Text Talk:  Classroom Stories
A poverty stricken student named Amanda knows the importance the cell phone with texting has in her life and education.  She is 18 years old and only has 10 credits toward graduation.  However, she is bound and determined to earn a high school diploma.  Even a GED is not an option.  She has great intentions and puts her best efforts into educational endeavors, but her basic needs continue to get in the way.  The result of a childhood of abuse, moves, and chaos, Amanda is on her own and has been for years.  She has worked many fast food jobs and managed to get a horrible old car.  She has no home, but stays with friends so that her pay check can go to insurance, gas, and food.  She is a very hard worker.  Amanda is very giving and is often set back by helping others. With crisis after crisis resulting from things like a common cold, or a blown car hose, or a need to loan Mom money; Amanda has a difficult time making it to school consistently.  Thus, the text messaging is often the only way she keeps connected.  For Amanda, the cell phone becomes the only watch, the only alarm clock, the only calendar, the only camera, the only means of communication with the world.  Amanda wants to be in school, although she is working two jobs almost full time.  One evening she texted me this: “Twxt me tomorrow morning so I can go to school.  My phone alarm doesn't work.”  By the way, she did use a period and a capital letter in that text, which was surprising even to me.  Another time I got this, “my car overheated, i did a chpt to turn in, i go get my moms phone n call u”  Whether or not the work was turned in on time, there was better communication and a sense of appreciation for the effort to contact me regarding the work than there would have been without the use of text messaging.  

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