Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pay to Pee: A Piss Poor Example of Classroom Management

Have you heard about the Pay to Pee controversy at Cascades Elementary School in Lebanon, Oregon?  A friend brought it to my attention today.  And once she did, it was all that I could think about!  While I frequently think "I should blog about that" and even work up a rough draft in my head, I am rarely still stuck on an idea when I actually have the time to sit down and type it all out.  But this?!  This has my dander up!

Image courtesy of:  kjnnt

Stock Image - image ID: 10095488
As the mother of two children with GI conditions that are treated with what boils down to liquid diets and frequent bathroom breaks, my first instinct was to consider how such a policy would affect them.  But then I realized that my kids would be fine.  They have a documented medical need to pee every 5 seconds, whether it is convenient to the classroom schedule or not.  But what about their classmates?  

This policy is wrong on so many levels!  

American schools are already teaching our kids to ignore the body's natural hunger cues by introducing unnecessary food into classrooms.  Get a math problem right?  Have a piece of candy!  Someone's birthday?  Let's have cupcakes!  Someone gets a big promotion?  We MUST HAVE CAKE!  Yes, there are exceptions.  My children's school put a stop to parents bringing in sugary treats for birthdays at the start of last school year.  But there are still sugar-packed holiday parties a few times each year.  The students are still rewarded every so often with pizza and ice cream parties for various accomplishments.  Later this week, we will celebrate the promotion (and mourn the departure) of our school's beloved janitor.  I bet you'll never guess what we're doing for him!  And yes, I do mean "we" because as annoyed as I am that it always comes down to food, I am still going to make safe sugary treats for my little overachievers so they can join the celebration.

We all get the urge to move a bit after we have been sitting still for a while  But our children are discouraged from doing so.  They must sit on hard chairs for the entirety of one or more complete lessons.  (When is the last time you sat in one of those chairs without squirming?)  Standing, walking around, and any other medium to large movement that could be distracting to others is prohibited.  Traditional American schools are teaching our children to ignore their bodies' cues to move around in order to ease muscle tension.  The result is to teach them to be sedentary for most of the day rather than incorporating physical activity into their day.  (Can you say rising rates of obesity in children?)

The Pay to Pee policy takes it a step further.  This policy is teaching kids to hold in their stool and urine even when their bodies are telling them to hurry up and let it out.  This sets the children up for bowel and bladder accidents which are embarrassing in the moment and set them up to be fresh targets for bullies.  

Holding in urine increases the risk of urinary tract infections.  Students who are particularly concerned about whether they can make it from one scheduled bathroom break to the next may elect to drink less, leading to dehydration.  Younger children (think kindergarten and first grade) who are stilling working on perfect bowel control have a very real need to get to the bathroom the moment they feel the urge to poop.  Teaching them not to do so sets them up for chronic constipation.  A bowel that is full of stool causes discomfort which is distracting and will lessen a student's ability to learn.  When enough stool has built up, the pressure on the bladder can lead to urinary incontinence.  Those who continue to withhold, either intentionally or because the colon has lost its ability to send messages of urgency can even end up hospitalized due to fecal bowel obstructions.

Now let's look at those kids who, despite their best attempts, must miss classroom instruction to use the bathroom.  While students at Cascades Elementary School are no longer required to pay for bathroom breaks, the school's current policy still allows for recess to be withheld as a punishment for missing instructional time.  What does not seem to have been considered in the policy revision is that physical activity stimulates the bowels.  Therefore, limiting a student's physical activity can actually lead to an increase in the amount of classroom instruction missed due to a decline in bowel function.  

The impact of exercise incorporated into the school day has been documented to result in an increased ability to learn and retain new information.  (Citation to come later...maybe...if it's still on my mind when I have time to sit down and look for it.  It's out there!  Trust me.  Or don't trust me and go Google it for yourself.)

Instead of working with teachers to restructure classroom schedules to build in bathroom breaks often enough to address the needs of the majority of students, the school has encouraged teachers to punish students for listening to their bodies.  Instead of motivating students how require unscheduled bathroom breaks to get to and from the bathroom with maximum efficiency, they penalize them for not doing enough.  

What a load of crap!