I recently stumbled upon a Quora question posted by a parent who wanted to know if she should speak to her daughter's teacher, who is a bully, about the teacher's treatment of her daughter. The Quora question asked:
"My daughter's 1st grade teacher refused to let her use the restroom, and she ended up wetting herself. Should we talk to the teacher?
"The request to use the restroom was made 3 times before my girl wet herself. A week later, my daughter was hit in the nose by a boy that sits next to her. Then the teacher refused to let my daughter go to the nurse (she wears a contact lens, and is not allowed to put in eye drops w/out the nurse)."
I found the parent's question to be reflective of the unfortunate power dynamic between less affluent parents and teachers or school administrators in the society we currently live in. Parents too often defer to teachers and administrators, believing that professional educators must know better how to make choices for children than parents. And even when it is clear that a teacher is bullying a child, parents too often walk on eggshells around the teachers and instead turn their attention to helping the child alter her mindset or behavior to conform to the actions of the teacher.
However, it was in the responses to the question that I was most annoyed. Multiple people came to the defense of the teacher and/or shifted blame to the child.
Daniel Kaplan, a 15 year veteran public school teacher commented:
“You could go talk to the principal instead, bypassing the chain of command, but what if things aren't quite as they appear? What if your daughter isn't sure of the truth herself? What if she misunderstood? What if she isn't quite telling the truth? What if it isn't the whole story?”
Becky Dole, a 33+ year educator commented:
“You also need to consider the possibility that you don’t have all the facts. Do not ever bypass the teacher. At least get the teacher’s side of the story. THEN, if not satisfied, go to the principal. Most districts have a chain of command and post it. If you go over someone’s head, you are likely to be discounted and get the reputation (not just this year) as a difficult parent.”
Emily Richards, another teacher commented:
“Unfortunately, teachers have to err on the side of caution with toilet breaks. Some kids - given the freedom to go to the bathroom during lessons - do crazy things like start fires. Far more common - children will realise that you’re the teacher that lets them go to the toilet, and they’ll abuse the liberty. The same rule applies to lending out pens, letting them use your printer or accepting crappy excuses for not having their homework.”
Gabriele Alfredo Pini, a first grade teacher commented:
“Two truths to keep in mind:
· Children lie. Even when they want to tell the truth.
· Teacher make honest mistakes.”
I believe parents should have a few takeaways from these responses by teachers.
The first takeaway is to never ask a teacher for advice on how to deal with abusive teachers. It is human nature for teachers to make excuses for other teachers. The more someone identifies with a profession, the more likely it is that they will make excuses for other members in the profession (e.g., military, police, politicians). If you’re going to ask someone for advice on how to deal with someone who is abusive, do not ask someone who feels an allegiance to the abuser.
The second takeway is that too many teachers seem to believe that schools should be treated as if they were military units. Both Daniel and Becky talked about a “chain of command,” which makes a lot of sense because schools are often quite militaristic. In schools children are often expected to speak only when spoken to, they are expected to stand or walk in formation, they are expected to adhere to restrictive rules and standards, they are expected to conform to the culture of the school, and in many schools they are even expected to wear a uniform. However, children are not soldiers, and they should not be treated as if they were. My response to Daniel said:
“There is no chain of command. It is a school, not a military unit. Children are not soldiers, and teachers and principals are not NCOs and officers. The teacher doesn’t deserve a consultation. The teacher is clearly unfit to be working with children. The responsible thing to do flew out the window when the teacher refused to allow the child to go to the bathroom or go to see the nurse.”
The third takeaway is that too many teachers have a belief that children are inherently dishonest or sinful, while teachers are inherently well intentioned. Daniel, Becky, and Gabriel all suggested that the child who wet herself could have or likely lied. Gabriel extends this unfounded assumption to every single child. Emily, meanwhile, suggests that left to their own devices, children are going to abuse whatever liberties they are given, and even “do crazy things like start fires.”
And the fourth takeaway stems from the other three, parents should take the responsibility of protecting their children into their own hands instead of leaving it in the hands of tone-deaf teachers and administrators. The teacher who would not let the little girl go to the bathroom is clearly too incompetent to be trusted with children. However, the quoted teachers are also people that children should be protected from. If children are treated as dangerous, untrustworthy, and naturally deviant or sinful, then psychological harm follows. These children learn to not trust themselves, and to always defer to abusive authority figures for decision-making and permission to act. That is not healthy for the children, for the relationships between children and their parents, or for society as a whole.
And this was my response to the original Quora question:
“I would not talk to the teacher for much the same reasons as Laura Machado Toyos outlined in her answer. However, I would also bypass the principal. While the teacher who did not let your daughter go to the bathroom acted woefully inappropriately as a teacher, an adult with responsibility over children, and as a human being, one should recognize that the treatment was based on a disregard for the child, and that is present in all traditional, compulsory schools.
“What other type of environment in our society requires people to ask for permission to go to the bathroom? Other than school, jails and prisons are the only ones that I can think of.
“Schools prioritize control and management over student autonomy. Schools treat children as if they are incompetent beings, or worse, inherently destructive of sinful beings. And that type of assumption doesn’t only lead to some children wetting themselves, it tears down their sense of self-confidence and self-worth, oftentimes causing irreparable psychological harm.
“I would recommend that you pull your daughter out of school. Instead of subjecting her to harmful environments, I would encourage you to look into alternatives to schooling. In particular, look at progressive alternative schools such as Sudbury schools or Abrome, homeschooling, or unschooling.”
Remember, there are alternatives to school.
1. There is ample evidence that more affluent parents are more willing to speak up and make demands of educators than poorer parents are, as well as evidence that school administrators and teachers are more responsive to the demands of wealthier families.