My daughter’s first meal was a TV dinner. Fourteen years ago, as I nursed my newborn in our hospital bed, a nurse brought in a video she thought I might like to watch. I remember trying to gaze at the dark-haired beauty in my arms while watching Glenn Close and Christopher Walken run from a tornado. I couldn’t split my attention like that and clicked off the movie.

I find the memory ironic as I read recently that my daughter is a member of what is being called the M-generation, for “multitasking.” She has known only a wired world; she has no qualms about talking on the phone, MSN-chatting and listening to iTunes–all while fighting with her brothers.

Although she (unhappily) does not yet have her own cell phone, she uses mine–and hands it back moments later with the screen-saver and all the ring tones changed. She not only juggles technology deftly; she takes it for granted.

She is not of my generation, which is as it should be.

But they don’t call it a generation gap for nothing, as illustrated by the May 30 Des Moines Register article “Dad: Text Me From School? Son: Sorry, No Longer Can Do.” There is tension between techno-cautious school authorities and the techno-savvy students they serve. As a high school teacher, part of my own job is to make and enforce guidelines for technology use–by students brimming with technology confidence.

It is teens’ technology affinity that makes us rotary-dialers nervous. “We don’t know what they’re using those phones for,” said Bruce Hukee, Johnston High School principal, in the Register article. Many Des Moines-area schools require students to chuck their cell phones at the schoolhouse gates. Where I teach, at Atlantic High School [in Atlantic, Iowa], teachers are to confiscate student phones used during school hours.

On first thought, declaring the school a no-cell zone makes sense. It eliminates whatever “they’re using those phones for” by prohibiting “those phones.” I’m the last teacher who wants students taking calls from their travel agents while I’m trying to explain the power of a well-placed semicolon. But a school-wide “Just Say No Cell” policy oversimplifies complex issues. It solves small problems while entrenching larger ones.

Phones ringing during class, for example, is a small problem. My favorite scene in the new Superman flick is when Jimmy’s painstaking photography efforts are upstaged by a 13-year-old with a cell-phone camera. The joke (and the truth) is that kids know how to use their phones. Polite and responsible use should be the school-wide expectation.

There are reasonable uses for cell phones in schools. At Atlantic, kids have 5 minutes between classes. If during these 5 minutes Ashley (by the art room) wants to call Danelle (in the social science wing) to arrange a ride after school, or if Brandon wants to text his mom and tell her he got an A–or a D–on his English paper, I don’t see a problem (aside from the D).

In fact, by welcoming instead of warding off technology, and by recognizing realities of the M-generation, schools can help students dismantle the wall between their education and their “life.” It is this wall that is a bigger problem than cell phones.

“We’re just asking kids to follow our rules,” Hukee says. Fine, but let’s set rules that prioritize kids’ development as thinking, functioning people. Nothing we teach kids is more important than how to use good judgment. When educators ban technology, rather than learning, along with students, how to work with it, students chalk it up to schools’ irrelevant and archaic nature. Unless we resort to pat-down entry to our classrooms, cell phones will be there–under the radar.

But what about cell phones as avenues for cheating? What fuels cheating isn’t a power cell. It’s fueled by complex motivations, including students’ perception of the value of assignments and their willingness to sacrifice their integrity for a grade. These are real issues of real concern for every teacher, administrator, and student–but they are not solved by prohibiting cell phones

Too many students already power down–literally and figuratively–as they enter the classroom. The alternative? Teaching responsible, polite use of technology in our schools, while prohibiting rudeness and disruption of learning. Incorporating such relevancy into education cannot be accomplished with a cell-phone ban. It requires both teachers and students to use a higher-order thinking skill: judgment. Copyright 2006; reprinted with permission from the Des Moines Register.