Palm Beach, Florida, school administrators want to lift limits on cellphone use by students and embrace cellphones as part of classroom instruction.  Valdosta, Georgia, school administrators want to ban cellphones, declaring them instruments of cheating, pornography and “beat-ins.”

Southern schools are clearly divided on how much technology to let students play with.  In the global scheme of things, that may not be good news.  In India, the place where our outsourced service calls land, some schools are handing out iPods and iPhones equipped with reading, writing and arithmetic apps, along with interactive maps and video for geography and history lessons.  There’s even an app to teach ur lol kids how to spell.

Until a few weeks ago, schools in Louisville, Kentucky, blocked access to Facebook and Twitter for both students and teachers.  Now students at Dunn Elementary School are being taught to write 140-character summaries of what they’ve learned each day to put on the class Twitter page.  In Lexington, Kentucky, Fayette County School Superintendent Stu Silberman told the Courier-Journal, “The whole social-networking thing is part of a whole new world out there, and it’s important that we became involved with it.”  The Fayette County public schools’ Facebook page has more than 7,500 fans, and its Twitter account has almost 400 followers.

The “whole new world” offered by school technology officials in Palm Beach County, Florida, got a lukewarm reaction from the elected school board.  Administrators have proposed using students’ personal devices as part of classroom instruction.  But some board members worried that the current policy, which allows cell phones on campus if they are turned off and don’t have a camera, isn’t strict enough.  Board Chairman Monroe Benaim said he doesn’t see cell phones “being used at this point in time as an academic tool.”  School staff promised to come back with a detailed plan later this year.

In Valdosta, students can bring cellphones to school but they can’t use them in classrooms.  Superintendent Bill Cason wants to ban them altogether. At a recent school board meeting, he painted cellphones as something akin to demon devices used by rampaging gangsters.  He said students use them to send pornographic pictures, steal copies of tests, plot gang initiation “beat-ins” and schedule assaults at school bus stops.  And pretty much every day, he said, somebody steals somebody else’s cellphone.

Cellphone use “is taking away too much instructional time,” Cason told the school board. “A student can’t text and pay attention to what’s going on in the classroom.”

Except, perhaps, in India.

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.