Join a Club

I’m not sure how much of this is true. Like any story told by a middle schooler, there is room for imagination, hyperbole, maybe even a stretch or two. And…

Jesus told parables. You’ll find fables in Zen Buddhism. In fact it seems to me that in every tradition pursuing truth, Hindu, Sikh, Islam, you’ll find storytelling as a way of talking about the big issues. So…

This winter, my daughter’s middle school banned cell phones. At first it was explained to the kids as a response to online bullying, but the students pointed out right away that behavior like that was probably as likely to happen outside the school day.

Some adults, hearing of the prohibition, praised the notion that the kids would be forced to interact, make eye contact, find ways to get together that didn’t involve a screen.

“We’ll see how long this lasts,” my daughter said with a shrug. “Kids won’t do it, and they won’t join a club just because they’re forbidden to bring a cell phone to school.” Insert middle school eye roll here.

We’ll find out later that she was wrong.

There was the expected petition. It failed, of course, to change the policy. Appeals to the administration fell short. One boy, she told me, was sent to the office to hand over his earbuds, not because they were attached to his phone, but because they could be attached to his phone.

“We can’t even have them at lunch,” my daughter reported. Tough policy, I thought.

Then today, as we were driving to the grocery store, my daughter gave me an update on how things were going. “A bunch of kids got in big trouble,” she explained. “One boy got suspended for two weeks, maybe more.”

screen shot 2019-01-30 at 10.55.28 am“Over a cell phone?” I asked.

“Well…”

And now the story veers into something straddling the worlds of fable and karma. I have -and I’m more than comfortable with- only second hand reporting. The veracity of the account pales in my mind to the feelings the story inspires. As Ken Kesey told his audience in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: “It’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.” So…

“It was a fight club,” she said matter of factly.

“A fight club?”

“Yeah. This boy organized it and arranged fights between other kids. They had to pay to be in it. People would have to pay $10 to watch. The winner would get some of the money.”

“He’s like Don King.” I offered.

“Who?”

“Never mind. How’d you hear about it?”

“Everybody’s talking. When he got caught, the kid told the principal that since we can’t be on cell phones he had to figure out something else to do.”

Plucky.

Ridiculous, of course.

“No one ever actually fought,” she continued. “They just planned it and the one guy got in trouble for thinking it up.”

In her mind the general idiocy of middle school boys was on par with the cell phone ban alleged to have started it all.

And I thought to myself, these boys, ruffians to borrow a word from a time before cell phones, had certainly misbehaved and were fibbing at least a bit if they claimed it was because they’d lost their devices. But…

Jesus, or Buddha, or Ken Kesey might point out that what they had also done was interact, make eye contact, and get together in a way that didn’t involve a screen.

I’m not sure how long my daughter’s school will ban cell phones, perhaps as long as our parents’ generation prohibited gum or baseball caps or skirts above the knee.

But I do believe that while sensible parameters are important, when we start trying to control kids in ways they find unreasonable, they’ll find a way to prove us wrong, even if it’s by joining a club.

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