Dallas was on a literary roll in March. In 72 hours I heard Dan Patrick Brown give a riveting review of his book The Boys in the Boat to a packed house at HP Pres, then whizzed over to the Village to the Saint Michael’s Woman’s Exchange to meet humorist Julia Reed at her book signing, and the cherry on the sundae was attending the HP Literary Festival, which included the wonderful novelist Jamie Ford probably best known for his novel, Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I was puffed up that Dallas has become a bastion of literature and civility. As an author during their Literary Festival I was honored to be a workshop presenter: I had been invited to an evening with Jamie Ford with the volunteers and other writers. He gave a lovely evening performance, (the one he had given to students earlier that day) which was followed by a gorgeous dinner party at prominent HP home. This was my first experience with the festival, which is typical of the community where I raised and schooled my children. The festival was organized by involved parents who care about education and participate to make a public school system competitive to private schools through enrichment programs. So later I was aghast to open the Dallas Morning News to read about the appalling treatment of the renowned author by the unacceptable behavior of Highland Park students in the student assembly. I’m glad I was unaware before I did back to back workshops.
My first clue that in the nearly 20 years since my last child graduated that the inmates have taken over the asylum was when the very nice young teachers asked their students to please silence their cell phones and refrain from checking them during the period. Huh?! My question to the teachers was WHY are they allowed to have phones in school? They shrugged, “The parents want them for emergencies.” Any emergency can be handled by a call to the office, and the only emergency I could see was the lack of writing skills in students who write like they tweet. The other 911 is that some kids were so sleep deprived or in some kind of altered state that they looked like patients coming out of general anesthesia. Some are distracted by a vibrating back pocket or purse. The parents, who are either out driving or working, do not need to be in any form of communication with their kid who should be learning. Most are not based on their writing samples, alertness, and ability to think on their feet. I divulged this to my own HP grad, who is now a mother in another state and she was aghast, “They let them have phones in school! That’s insane!”
Apparently, the buddy parents just want to give their kids what they want. So when spoiled out of control “too cool for school” brats bully, interrupt, and jeer a renowned author when he’s trying to explain Japanese internment during WWII, by the author’s own comments “trolling me while the principal and teachers just stood by,” it’s more than a black eye on HPHS. It’s a wake-up call. Imagine how they bully each other on social media. The only people with cell phones should be the teachers filming out of control students, posting it on the HPHS website and calling in their parents. Then the parents should be sent to Saturday morning detention to learn parenting skills while the kids sleep off their parties. It’s not all kids but a pretty big subset.
Question: does the football coach of the state champions permit the team to text while sitting waiting their turn during scrimmages? Do the football players tweet and snapchat while watching game films or at halftime in the locker rooms? Or do players need to stay laser focused or get booted from the team? Whatever the rules for cell phones are for the football team need to be applied to the classroom. IF and that’s a big if they must come into the school at all, cellphones should be put in a basket at the beginning of each class and returned at the exit if a student has stayed awake and participated. Otherwise they can get them at the office at the end of their day. Maybe honor students or senior privileges could be earned to carry a cell. If every public school is doing this then just maybe Highland Park can earn it’s reputation for being a good school system by leading the way toward excellence. Throw the damn cellphones out of school.
Len Bourland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org