The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro


"Mobile phones are the only subject on which men boast about who's got the smallest."... ...Neil Kinnock....

Commentary of the Day - August 6, 2006: Hertz Hurts.  Guest commentary by Beverly Carol Lucey.

Weeks after the flurry of email pleas from students who were sure mediocre performance was at least worth an A minus ended, I heard the voice of my grandmother.  Sure, she's been gone over thirty years but when the New York Times published an article in June about presbycusis and an invention from the UK I'm sure I heard Nana Beatrice say, "Oy.  Another country heard from."

We are talking about The Country of the Young, The Country of Those in Charge, The Country of People Who Think If You Make A Rule That Takes Care of It, The Country of Old Educators.

Schools from K-24 have rules.  They have to.  What would happen if they didn't?  What happens is they very often have to change the rule to match reality, or back off due to an embarrassing mistake, or else face a legal challenge.

A small school in western Massachusetts bans Oakland Raiders jackets because of gang violence 3000 miles away.  In a Texas school if your shirt is red, your pants and sneakers can't be.  I don't know why.

A middle school in Georgia suspends a sixth grader under their zero tolerance policy against weapons.  Chains are weapons.  She had a Tweety Bird key chain dangling from her book bag.


After Columbine, our small southern county insisted on clear plastic bookbags for everyone.


The first Walkmans made teachers crazy.  All those secret music enjoyers nodding in the hallways couldn't hear the question, "Where are you supposed to be?"  iPods.  Beepers.  Gold chains.  All have been forbidden in various places for various lengths of time.

A year later people realize too much energy is being spent being a tee-shirt monitor.  Often adults are unable to tell what the heck some student just did or said or gestured.  Obscene?  Harassment?  Subversive?  Dunno.

Now battles over cell phone possession in K-12 institutions rage across the land.  What to do?  Confiscate?  Suspend?  Indeed, a cell phone using scofflaw saves the day or a life somewhere.

It seems simple, especially at the university level.  Cell phones.  Pack 'em and stow 'em.

There.  I've set my boundaries.  I'm old. What do I know?

On June 12th I read A Ring Tone Meant to Fall on Deaf Ears by Paul Vitello in the New York Times.

Add to the general humiliations that come with being out of it around young people, I learn about presbycusis.  Likely I've got a raging case of it.  You might.  And how would we know?  Let's assume it's inevitable that along with gravity winning on a daily basis, it's safe to assume we all have "aging ears."  Presbycusis: a lessening of hearing acuteness resulting from degenerative changes in the ear that occur especially in old age.

Add that new vocabulary word to the following technical truth.

Apparently, I have the Yugo of cell phones.  I own it to make a call from the side of the road if I get stuck somewhere.  I can press a  few buttons and be rescued.  A fine invention.  While I was trying to figure out how to get everyone I needed onto speed dial, at least forty-two improvements in the technology happened.  I've been woefully ignorant of the ways students can stay in touch with the outside world without me noticing.

I would love to believe I am challenging students.

I fear they challenge themselves.  They figure out how far back in the classroom they have to sit to do the following and get away with it:

a. keep phone on vibrate so as to not miss any calls
b. receive and send text messages while looking attentively at the instructor
c. snap photographs of coeds in tempting tops and short skirts
d. take and make actual phone calls by wearing a Bluetooth in the ear covered by hair

Now, after reading the New York Times article I know there is yet another way to foil the prof, another way to flip an attempt at policy on its keister.

A security company in Wales invented a high pitched sound emitting gizmo aimed to scatter groups of lingering teens from parking lots and convenience stores.  Adults could shop and move in comfort. The sound was way too high for geezers (over thirty?) to hear.  Dubbed the Mosquito, it was designed to annoy the young'uns. 

What else could it be used for?  Why, a ring tone that instructors can't hear.  Brilliant!

After all, we're in college.  We are not asking for bathroom passes anymore.  Everyone else in the class will know why Vickie or Terrence is off to the restroom.  I won't.  Unless the rest of the class has hit the floor holding their ears in pain.

Presbycusis: friend or foe?

2006 Beverly C. Lucey
Beverly Carol Lucey is a freelance writer who teaches writing and communication at the University of Central Arkansas.

The IP comments: As one of those geezers who has lost a fair bit of audio acuity at the higher frequencies, the IP certainly can sympathize with Beverly.  Having a cell phone ring in the classroom is beyond annoying.  The IP's cell phone policy is fairly straightforward.  I require that all cell phones and pagers be silenced in class.  At one time I asked students to turn them off entirely, but I was bombarded with pleas from students who absolutely had to be reachable in case of family or work emergencies.  However did we survive before the invention of the cell phone?  Now I only require that the cell phones and pagers be off during exams.

The IP grew up at a time when if you saw someone walking down the street who was engaged in animated conversation with an invisible companion you assumed that the person was mentally deranged.  These days you can't tell.  It could be someone who has gone 'round the bend, but it also might just be someone talking on their hands free device.  That, in and of itself, can be a bit unsettling.


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