Big Bladder is Being Watched

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[The following blog contains mentions of child abuse.]

“I was beginning to think Foucault’s writings on the ‘disciplinary society’ were becoming irrelevant …” (Tweet from Josh Seim)
‘I think my bladder changed’: Former teacher describes years without bathroom breaks (Yahoo!)

At one of my first adjunct teaching jobs after I got my graduate degree, there was another instructor who was often in the teachers’ lounge at the same time I was, and we did not get along with each other at all. I had a number of disagreements (to put it very mildly) with her about how she taught her classes, but of all the things she did to her students that bothered me, not allowing them to go to the bathroom in the middle of class really upset me. This wasn’t a rule she enforced just for quizzes and tests, when there could conceivably be a concern with students accessing information while they were out of eyesight; once her class started (and she brought her own super-size clock into her classroom with her for emphasis), you had to be in the room for the whole class. I half-expected her to complain about how state laws wouldn’t let her lock her classroom from the inside.

As if that weren’t bad enough, one of the reasons she gave for this policy was that she didn’t want her students imbibing energy drinks, which she believed was what was causing many of her students to need to pee more often. Ignoring the fact that whatever legal substances her students choose to put into their bodies is none of her damned business, having actually spoken with the students on those campus so I could get to know them better (you know, so I could be a more effective teacher and all that), I can tell you that many of the older students we got in those evening classes had to caffeinate themselves because they were coming to us after an eight-hour day at work, and they needed the energy not just to get through our classes, but also to take care of their children after they got home. For the younger students, their parents were equally as busy, and if those parents didn’t turn a blind eye to their children chugging Red Bulls at an early age, then they often gave their kids energy drinks when they complained about not having enough energy to do all the things they needed to do. You can call that bad parenting if you want, but it’s not the students’ fault that their parents raised them on energy drinks.

Beyond that, ordering students to make sure they don’t need to go to the bathroom for eighty-five straight minutes is not only disrespectful to those students, but it’s also futile. I need to drink lots of water every day, which kind of necessitates me needing to make lots of bathroom trips during the day, and that doesn’t even take into account how easily my insides go haywire when I’m stressed (which for students is a near-constant condition, especially in college). Making young people “hold it in” for so long can even make any internal problems they’re having even worse, and can cause legitimate medical complications.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this is something I ran into a lot when I was going to that abattoir of a “school” back in the day. I’ve generally classed those episodes in with all the other “I don’t care” hard-headedness I got from teachers back then, highlighted by one episode in sixth grade when a teacher punished me for not sitting still in my chair when I was in so much pain from my father beating the shit out of me the night before that I couldn’t sit down without near-crippling pain. To that teacher, it didn’t matter that I was in so much pain already, or why I was in so much pain; it only mattered that I wasn’t following the rules. (This is the same teacher who, after another student admitted to beating me up for no reason, insisted I state the reason why I deserved to be beaten up.)

Students claiming to need to go to the bathroom, but really doing something else — looking up information for a quiz or test, or just taking a break from class — certainly happens every now and then, and I’d never claim otherwise. However, as much as people can try to prepare to sit in one place for long periods of time, there are times when no amount of preparation can stop someone from needing to use the bathroom at a moment’s notice; as if I needed a reminder of this, I had to go to the bathroom several times just typing up the first part of this blog, thanks to stress caused by me reliving some of the worst episodes of my young life. People of all ages can experience that kind of stress (I certainly did when I was that age), and forcing them to hold their bladder and/or bowels for long periods of time isn’t just cruel; it’s idiotic.

Giving students “demerits” (or what have you) for needing to use the bathroom during a class is, quite literally, punishing them for not being able to control an aspect of their biology that they legitimately might not be able to control. More to the point, the behavioural system showcased in that tweet is a prime example of how schools continue to turn everything they can into numbers, thanks to the corporatization of education seen in everything from overreliance on standardized tests to evaluating teacher performance based solely on test results that don’t take into account the hundreds of other factors that influence student performance.

I will never have children of my own — passing down my gene pool would probably be a violation of several articles of the Geneva Convention — but if I did, and I found out that my kids’ school was punishing children for needing to go to the bathroom during class time, I would find a different school immediately. Asking anyone, young or old, to sit in pain just to preserve some antiquated notions of “decorum” or “etiquette” or whatever is barbaric. Making people hold things in only means that bad stuff will happen when those things get unleashed, and teachers who forbid their students from using the bathroom during class time should keep in mind that students could unleash on them, in the most literal sense imaginable.

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