Teacher Offended by Student Advocating for His Needs, Rights

11 February 2013 Categories: public school

(Photo by Laurie A. Couture)

I hope this month’s post will empower children to advocate for their needs and rights and I hope it will empower parents to seek out learning environments that respect their children’s needs and rights. On 2/8/13, I received an email from a middle school teacher who was displeased that a boy in her class had empowered himself with one of my articles. Her email and my response to her email (with a grammatical fix for clarity) follows.

NOTE to school teachers: I am a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect. If you leave a comment telling me that you deny children use of the toilet, I will forward your school’s info to Child Protective Services in your state as required by law.

(I redacted the teacher’s name and personal information for her privacy):

“As a teacher I took offense at the tone of your article. If a child asks to use the bathroom in my class I will most likely say yes. I may ask the child to wait until I finish giving instructions, but then will allow them to go. Recently one of my students decided to use your article against me when I denied him use of the bathroom. However when he has used the bathroom in the past, he fools around. He will spend 15 minutes in the bathroom; that is 15 minutes of class he is missing! And he is already a poor student. Earlier in the week he was told to use the bathroom in the class before mine. Which he of course neglected to do. This is not a child who needs to go at the same time everyday. Requiring permission which you seem to think is unnecessary is a safety issue. This way if a child is “missing” we can check to see what time the student left for the bathroom. Yes kids have rights but when they overstep the boundaries there should be consequences.”

Hi ______,

I imagine you took offense at my article because your control over children’s bodies was called into question. I am not sure of which article you are referring, but I write to inform youth and their parents of children’s basic human rights and their needs. My tone is meant to empower those with little to no power, not to be disrespectful. However, I have little tolerance for the beliefs that people use to justify their subjugation of other people who they deem less equal than themselves. In a democracy, it is unacceptable that children should be held in school against their wills like a 13 year jail sentence- It certainly goes without saying that attempting to control children by regimenting their biological functions is abusive and inhumane.

I am pleased to hear that a youth felt empowered enough by one of my articles to stand up for his basic human rights. What evidence do you have that he “fools around” in the bathroom? Are there cameras recording his actions? Who has a right to determine what amount of time a person should have while taking care of personal matters? There are a number of reasons why a person, especially a teenage boy, might take 10-15 minutes in the bathroom: He might have difficulty urinating because he was forced to wait so long. Maybe he gets anxious urinating in front of others and waits to be alone. He might have constipation or diarrhea. He might be feeling ill. He might feel emotionally distressed and overwhelmed and needs an emotional break. He might be masturbating to ease the sexual tension that is natural and so intense for teens. He might be bored and is trying to take space or talk to a friend to rejuvenate himself.

Being cooped up in school for six hours a day certainly doesn’t give kids the time to play, socialize or take care of their many biological or emotional needs. You seem to think that 15 minutes of “class time” (that he doesn’t seem to want) is more important than caring for his bodily and emotional needs. You say it is a “safety issue” for a child to leave the classroom without permission, yet you denied him permission, putting his health and well being at risk. I see it as unsafe to “train” young impressionable humans to be obedient in a democracy that is supposed to be based on consent, critical thinking, equality, mutual respect and consensus.

You said he’s a “poor student”– then likely he is a brilliant and creative person. “Poor student” often translates to “the learning environment fails to meet his learning needs” or “the learning environment does not respect the kinesthetic or artistic modality through which he learns”. “Poor student” can also translate to “person who refuses to choke down and regurgitate a force-fed agenda.”

I encourage you to question your training that schooled you to believe that it is acceptable to force “class time”, education, confinement and bodily control over people simply due to their age and status in society. I would recommend former NY teacher, John Taylor Gatto’s book, “Dumbing Us Down” and the many other books about the unschooling movement and schools that run as child-led democracies (The Sudbury Valley School is one of many examples). You will discover in doing the research that youth, like my own teen son, are passionate and responsible about learning when it is interest-led and there is no force or confinement.

I hope you will praise your student for advocating for himself and for caring for his body and well being. Isn’t that what adults have to spend the rest of their lives learning to do after recovering from their schooling?


Laurie A. Couture


14 Responses to “Teacher Offended by Student Advocating for His Needs, Rights”

  1. Christeil 11 February 2013 at 11:58 am (PERMALINK)

    Ok, I have to stop reading your articles in bed. I just cheered out loud reading this and startled my sleeping husband. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!!

    • Laurie A. Couture 11 February 2013 at 1:17 pm (PERMALINK)


      LOL! Thank you for commenting- I always aim to please! ;)


  2. Amy Milstein 11 February 2013 at 3:16 pm (PERMALINK)

    Hi Laurie,

    This is lovely. First, that the boy stood up for himself and second your response to the teacher. Most people would not recognize the issues you bring up; would not even think of them, so trained are we to acquiesce & even encourage the type of oppression the happens in school. Thank you for always being such an elegant and straightforward advocate for kids. I know a few teachers to whom I may send this post…


    • Laurie A. Couture 11 February 2013 at 5:55 pm (PERMALINK)

      Hi Amy,

      Thank you for your support! I think it is wonderful, too, that the boy stood up for himself, and at such a young age: Middle School age! He is truly a leader and I hope he can get the support of his parents and other families to support him to continue to stand up for his rights.


  3. Rebecca 11 February 2013 at 9:03 pm (PERMALINK)

    This response brought tears to my eyes. I’m soo happy that finally people are getting it !! My children were victims of the school system and have spent a lot of time trying to recover from the abuse you described in your response. Only one of my four children actually graduated from high school. They got their GED but dropped out of school as soon as it was legal to do so. This saddens me as they missed all the social activities that went alone with high school graduation. However, I would not wish on them the horrific treatment they received in school. Thank you !!

  4. polly 12 February 2013 at 1:01 am (PERMALINK)

    I have always objected to having to ask permission to fulfil a normal bodily function. Especially in high school!!!
    My cousin was talking about the new school her two girls are attending this year. The children are ages 13 and 11. It is a private school and I don’t imagine it comes cheapily.
    The uniform is very nice and neat, including blazers. My cousin was saying that on warm days an announcement would be made over the PA as to when blazers could be taken off!!!! I was appalled.
    Who gets to dictate when the student body is hot enough? What if some children are naturally hotter than others??

  5. Anonyomous 12 February 2013 at 8:59 pm (PERMALINK)


    Thank you for being so articulate. I really enjoy reading your articles.

    My children are going to be unschooled. (My reason is because childhood is such a short time period in life, that I want them to enjoy it to their full potential). Too many 18 year olds, don’t know what they want to do with their life, nor do they know what they are good at.) I blame part of it on the school system, they spend their time in school from 8 AM – 3 PM. By the time, school ends, they are tired, and they have homework. It “steals” valuable time from children, and hinders them to develop their passions. It’s like the child’s life “revolves” around the school.


  6. Anonyomous Again 12 February 2013 at 9:13 pm (PERMALINK)

    I love how you put the term “bad student” IN QUOTES. My response is that schools cater only to children with “certain” abilities, while excluding children that don’t have certain abilities:

    Meaning that the children that excel in school (straight A students) are typically those with strong verbal-linguistic intelligence. They have “strong book knowledge” and have the ability to decipher the meanings of difficult or obscure passages in text.

    The problem is NOT every child is that “type”. Some children are more creative, while some are more social, while others are more kinesthetic. Schools don’t include these types of children and is setting them up for failure.

    School success does not always mean life success.

  7. Tom Lewis 15 February 2013 at 8:35 am (PERMALINK)

    When I have taken company courses at work, the instructor never questions anyone’s need to use the restroom. Generally, a break is taken every 1.5 hours, and the breaks last 15 minutes, which means that adults are treated much better than children.
    When I attempted to teach high school in South Carolina, I was actually advised not to allow students to use the restroom during class.
    I appreciate your reply to the teacher. It is time that they recognize the bodily needs of children to the same extent that employers recognize the bodily needs of the employees.

  8. June Galvin 15 April 2013 at 2:50 pm (PERMALINK)

    This dictating when children may use the restroom is child abuse. My daughter often has had severe anxiety issues at school due to teachers who refuse children’s requests to use the restroom. She had many accidents in elementary school due to teachers telling her she could wait. She has a medical condition which makes it impossible for her to wait. I had to get a doctor to order the school to allow her to use the restroom and get an IEP for her medical condition before they would allow unrestricted bathroom use.

    • Laurie A. Couture 28 April 2013 at 2:25 pm (PERMALINK)


      I agree that denying a child use of the toilet is child abuse. I hope you have your daughter safe at home, unschooling. I recommend checking the Archives of ChildAdvocate.org to read the horrifying letters that parents send me in the past regarding their children of all ages being denied their right to use the toilet in school. (scroll to the bottom of my homepage, make a small donation and you’ll have access)


  9. Brian W. Freeman, Esq. 27 February 2014 at 5:03 pm (PERMALINK)

    This teacher’s attitude is not uncommon. I hear stuff like this all the time in response to my legal article written on the subject of bathroom rights (see http://www.brianwfreeman.com/bathroom-rights/). I am thankful that there are people like you who are standing up for our most vulnerable: our children.

  10. Kate King 27 April 2014 at 9:46 am (PERMALINK)

    It is amazing what you find when you type “unschooling” into Google! I live in Australia and have just embarked on a Home Learning journey with my two sons 9 and 7 yrs.
    The Australian Government is determined to model the Australian school system on the US model despite the overwhelming data available that shows it actually damages children, many beyond repair. So here I am, a newbie, reading John Holt, John Taylor Gatto and now you! I am becoming more painfully aware of my own school damage and realise the success of this path is all tied up with my ability to reducate myself and allow my sons to make their own connections with me as their guide. Excitement is mixed with the bittersweet sadness of 4 wasted years with my beautiful boys that now need repair. How did we all get so far off track, so detached from our own humanity? I sign off with thanks and hope.


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