Teacher Offended by Student Advocating for His Needs, Rights

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