At the start of each semester, college professors often entertain themselves by starting endless discussions on weird topics. Somebody would get bothered by something really insignificant and send an e-mail to every other professor on campus. Then, people would start sending responses exaggerating the insignificant issue beyond all reason. As a result, our mailboxes would be flooded by dozens of e-mails discussing the insignificant issue ad nauseam.
The most recent topic under discussion has been the use of cell phones. It started with a complaint about students using cell phones to send text messages and check their Facebook accounts in the classroom. Then, the discusison moved on to condemn the teachers who do the same thing while boring meetings and functions. At this point, we have reached the stage where people are explaining their belief that cell phones are evil by nature and shouldn't be used by any one under any circumstances.
What I find to be especially curious in this discussion is the latent desire to control and discipline others simply for the pleasure of it. Educators often spend insane amounts of time and effort to impose on their classrooms rules that, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty meaningless. As an educator, I have always resisted all attempts by the administration and my colleagues to turn me into a truancy officer or a policewoman. Honestly, I don't care less if students skip class, show up late, or spend the entire class time texting. This isn't high school, this is college where our students are adults. They can decide for themselves whether they need to attend class or listen to the teacher. If they end up making a poor choice, well, that's their problem.
The actual reason why college educators get so angry about the use of cell phones in the classroom and during meetings and functions is because people who use them serve as an unwelcome reminder of a few self-evident truths. The professors who text during boring meetings and blog during useless functions remind us that, even though all of us hate wasting time on such gatherings, only a few of us are free from fear of displeasing the authorities enough to be doing what we want during these meetings. The students who find their Facebook page more fascinating that our lecture remind us that we are failing at making what we do in class interesting enough for the students.
Yesterday, I delivered this really good lecture on the Black Plague. The students were riveted, and no one preferred their cell phones to the information I was delivering. Next week, when I fail to make my class as engaging, the students will, in all probability, plunge right back into their cell phones. Of course, I will be tempted to blame them as ignoramuses who are incapable of seeing the beauty and the importance of my lecture. But honestly, if people prefer their cell phones to my classes, it can't be only their fault.