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No Toilet Paper for You

In a town not too far from my own, the public high school has a problem – male students are intentionally clogging the school toilets. It’s a problem the school has been struggling with for two years. Now the school has instituted a new rule in an attempt to prevent this vandalism: male students must go to the school office to sign out toilet paper.

A good friend posted a link on her Facebook page to a newspaper article describing this situation.  She pointed out that, were she to institute this type of policy in her own home, she might very well be charged with child abuse; I can’t disagree with that, even though I think most children are not so psychologically fragile as to be traumatized for life by having to request toilet paper. Having to use the bathroom at school can be embarrassing, though, and I can only imagine the humiliation at having to ask a relative stranger for toilet paper. (The article does not specify if the tp is handed out by the roll or by the square.) I don’t really want to get into the gastrointestinal issues that might be caused by not using the bathroom all day despite the biological need to do so.


My first inclination was to echo her sentiments with a brief “Ridiculous! What won’t schools do these days?” kind of comment. But she and I both homeschool, for a long list of reasons, so we are somewhat biased against the school system already.


So unlike my initial response, I tried to see the issue from the point of view of the school. Did the school secretary really want to experience the joy of dispensing toilet paper to teen boys? Was that going to be a fine line-item addition to her resume? Probably not. The article mentioned that the school had been having problems for two years, so that’s two years of the janitor mopping up unnecessary messes in addition to his daily responsibilities. That’s two years of a variety of school personnel trying to craft solution after solution to this problem. It’s probably a handful of assemblies, several stern letters home, maybe even a parent meeting or two. And still, someone backing up the toilets on purpose. I think about how often I have to plunge the toilets in my home with four children . . . and then multiply by a lot. I can see how this problem, which at first might cause you to giggle, would become exceptionally disruptive to the school day. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I can see how they might have come to the conclusion that dispensing toilet paper from the office was a viable solution. (Won’t the smart ones just bring their own? I digress.)


And then I thought – as I drag you from thought to thought through my head – why are these kids clogging the toilets? I came up with two likely reasons: the school is a miserable place to spend the day, and someone, mostly the parents, has fallen down on the job of teaching right from wrong. (I hope we can all agree that repeatedly and intentionally clogging the toilets is wrong.)


Maybe it’s a terrible, awful school. Maybe they don’t have recess. Maybe they have a strict dress code. Maybe they have lots of rules, like no talking in the halls between classes. Maybe the teachers are bored, and boring. Maybe there’s asbestos peeling from the walls. Maybe there’s no more art, or music, or PE, or theatre program. Maybe these kids haven’t been able to find an effective method to protest their mistreatment. Maybe they are like the toddler who finds negative attention is better than no attention at all. I’m not suggesting that unhappy students across the nation should be clogging toilets, but the repressed will find an outlet, somewhere, somehow, and maybe some listening to the message should be on the school agenda.


Or maybe the parents aren’t engaged with their children. Maybe they work three jobs, and the night shift. (Having been to the area in question, I can suggest that it’s much more likely that the parents are working no jobs – this town is in the eastern fringes of the PA Rust Belt.) Maybe these parents had rough childhoods themselves. Maybe these parents are doing their best, but their best only goes as far as food and shelter. But I would suspect that kids who, over the course of years, are again and again choosing to vandalize, are not really being taught much in the way of values on the home front. I cringe when I wonder if there are even parents in the town who are still giggling over the whole thing.


But there must be some students, and some parents, who are trying their hardest to get all they can out of their school experience no matter how it may seemed stacked against them. There must be some parents who are active, who spend their free time re-shelving books or helping with kindergarten pickup or photocopying newsletters. There must be some students who sit in the front, listen to droning teachers, and raise their hand with completed homework at the ready. These are the ones I feel for, because it’s these potential merit scholar sons who are going to the school secretary for half a dozen squares (because even though they might be smart enough to bring their own, they’re honest and rule abiding and don’t).


As the national debate over education drags on and on and on here in America, this is just one more vignette to add to the conversation. How on earth do you educate kids who come to school with the primary goal of endlessly clogging the toilets? How on earth do you send your kids to a school that denies its boys the most basic essentials of humanity? How on earth do you get schools and parents to work with each other, not against, to provide the best upbringing for children?


I don’t know the answers, of course. I chose to opt out altogether by homeschooling. But even though I may have addressed and solved many of the shortcomings of public school by schooling my four kids at home, the vast majority of kids still go through the public school system. Even as a homeschooler, the need for significant overhaul of public schooling is not something I can afford to ignore. After all, I’m not fixing the problem, I’m merely avoiding it.


The more I homeschool, the more I empathize with teachers – theirs is a Herculean task, one in which failure is practically designed into the system. As a homeschooler, I can control both of the problems in the above scenario. I am the school, one that is enthusiastic, responsive, well-run and nurturing; I am the parent, one who makes sure her children are respectful, kind and moral, at home, at school, and out in the world. I have it easy.

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