The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, February 22, 2004

A major American corporation closely regulates its employees' bathroom usage. Restrooms are locked, and workers are given "bathroom passes" -- just 15 per month.

This obviously poses health risks for the workers, as it's not healthy to restrict one's fluid intake or urination:

"Common sense tells you the policy doesn't make any sense," said Dr. Christopher S. Cooper, an associate professor of urology at the University of Iowa who specializes in pediatric urology. "When [people] need to go, they should be allowed to go. It isn't good to hold it in or drink less fluids. It could have long-term effects on a [person]'s health."

So who is this horrible company that won't let its employees use the bathroom? Well, I lied. It's not a corporation. I described a New Jersey middle school.

I found this story on Joanne Jacobs' blog. Now this restroom policy would get a business sued in no seconds flat, but no matter; there's always someone willing to defend the educational subsection of America's penal system:

The problem is that middle school and high school students tend to do naughty things in bathrooms, ranging from graffiti, destruction of the facilities (expensive!), to smoking, to assault of other students (rape and murder in two recent local cases I'm aware of). Schools don't have the staff to monitor bathrooms constantly (and you wonder why education is so expensive per child). Of course the kids have to pee during the day (so do I, but I have to time it carefully for lunch and my plan period -- when I have one -- since I can't leave the classroom when I have students in it). There would be no problem if kids actually went to the bathroom to pee, but in too many cases, that's not the intent. The intent of the schools is not to torture kids, but keep them safe. What's *your* solution to the problem?

"Stop behaving like a concentration camp administrator" is not polite, but it is a solution.

There was also someone to remind us that whatever problems people might face, it's the suffering teachers who have it worst:

I know the topic is about kids and bathrooms, but we teachers have to hold it all the time. According to this California Teachers Association link, bladder infections are particularly common to teachers. So are foot and voice problems.

Well yes, those jackboots can lead to heel problems.

Why was this policy instituted? Because school administrators have a mortal terror of disciplining any individual child; the only way they can deal with problems is to make all children miserable:

It is the latest in a series of disciplinary measures implemented by school administrators in response to behavioral problems that have included bomb threats scrawled on a bathroom wall.

School officials defend the policy as a way to ensure safety, security and order.

Of course these measures just feed the problem they allegedly try to solve. If you had to spend six hours a day in a place that didn't let you go to the bathroom, wouldn't you feel like writing something nasty on the wall?

I went to a high school that had no locks on its lockers. The bathrooms were open, and so was the campus; when lunchtime came around you were free to go home, or to Jim's Deli for a sandwich. (I'm not describing some idyllic rural past; I went to high school twenty years ago, in a small town in upstate New York that had the greatest number of bars per capita in the state.) Our school had no real disciplinary problems, and our teachers did not feel compelled to behave like prison guards.

Now this was a private (though by no means expensive) Catholic school that could accept and expel students at will. And of course that made all the difference. Also the principal was not some mealymouthed bureaucrat who hid behind stupid rules. He was a short, muscular man in his fifties who grew up in Hell's Kitchen and had been a monk, a stereotypical tough urban Irishman. If there was a problem, he fixed it. (The stereotype of the milquetoast high school principal is not something that I readily understand. Our principal scared the hell out of us.)

Today's schools are so restrictive that I really can't believe what I hear: Closed campuses where students cannot leave for lunch; 15-minute lunch breaks; students who are suspended -- and arrested -- for sharing asthma medication; boys who are given Ritalin because they display youthful energy. Isn't it time for Americans to step back to a neutral point of view and take a critical look at what goes on in America's public schools?



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