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The hidden talents of Generation Text a challenge for schools

I'll say this: The ingenuity and determination of the teenagers of Generation Text are something else.

Recently I learned that some of them are so adept at sending text messages via cell phone that they can do it one-handed. With minimal movement. And — this is the biggie — while they are sitting in class allegedly listening to a teacher, with the above-mentioned hand and cell phone tucked casually into a pants or hoodie pocket, inside of which they are surreptitiously texting away. (Helpful hint: Works best with an ultra-thin phone.)

All of which illustrates the problem schools grapple with: kids using cell phones when they're supposed to be learning, or at least giving it a shot.

At best, kids texting at school is a distraction. They will tell you they can simultaneously absorb calculus while setting up an after-school rendezvous at Sonic, but if you've ever tried to talk to one of them mid-message and gotten that blank stare, you know differently.

Cell phones also can be handy for cheating. Remember when the smudgy ink of answers written on the palm of a hand could get someone busted? Imagine the technological possibilities of a cell phone.

And the Times recently reported about how text messaging was used to try to stir up trouble at Hillsborough's Freedom High (riot in the courtyard between 5th and 6th period).

For the record, I am firmly pro-cell phone. I cannot imagine how we managed life, appointments, or relationships before them. And it's understandable that parents want to stay in touch with their teenagers for practical and safety reasons.

But. They. Must. Be. Off. During. School. That's general policy in both Hillsborough and Pinellas. But those who walk the halls or visit the bathrooms will tell you something else.

My sister, a science teacher, once overheard a student tell his buddies his teachers were so dumb they thought his cell phone was an iPod.

She wasn't so dumb the next time he took it out and claimed it was all about music. "I know an iPod when I see one," she said. At least she did by then.

In Hillsborough, where cell phones at school were the subject of a recent forum, one idea was a basket on each desk into which each student would place his cell phone in teacher's eye-view during class.

That's an interesting one, given the pre-mentioned pocket ingenuity, or just plain old "chimping," a reference I've heard to the act of texting with both hands, the phone obscured by a desk if you're lucky.

(It also apparently refers to the noise digital photographers make when they check out what they shot. As I write this, text-related "chimping" is probably as passe as the brick-sized cell phone I'm still carrying around.)

Some elements of a zero tolerance plan? Signs posted at school. Admonitions at the start of class, the kind flight attendants give. (Though there will surely come a day when your seat mates will be permitted to blather loudly on their cell phones till the plane is ready to touch down.) Mandatory confiscation.

Not long ago I left a phone message for a teenager I know, thinking she would get it after school. I immediately got a text message in response. Aren't you in class? I sent back.

DONT WORRY, came the reply. ITS ONLY ENGLISH.

The hidden talents of Generation Text a challenge for schools 05/02/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 3:52pm]

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