Unclogging the toilet is never a particularly pleasant job, but most of us, if told we had to do it with our bare hands, would recoil in disgust and humiliation. And yet that’s exactly what one 4-year-old was told to do at a Florida elementary school.
On Monday at bathroom time at Rymfire Elementary School in Flagler County, Florida, a teacher who was fed up with the number of clogged toilets she experienced with her pre-Kindergartners had had enough. So she decided to have a “teachable moment” that involved making Tiffany Huffman’s 4-year-old son unclog the toiled he plugged with his bare hands while his classmates looked on.
The problem with that is that it’s not really a “teachable moment” so much as a “profoundly terrible idea.” Huffman was alarmed to hear about what happened, but she told local news outlet News 6 that when she called the school for answers, it was hardly contrite. The teacher admitted to making her son scoop wet hunks of toilet paper out with his hands but assured his mother that the toilet was clean.
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Huffman insisted that doesn’t make it right:
“It’s endangering his health. I realized afterwards that there was cuts on his hands, but like the bacteria, anything could set in on those cuts.”
Well, yeah. Toilets might not be the dirtiest spot in a building, but they are the place people go to relieve themselves, and even if the bowl was freshly flushed, surely the toilet paper this kid was meant to be steam-shoveling out of the potty with his ungloved hands wasn’t. Not to mention the fact that if you’re expecting preschoolers to show the porcelain gods any kind of obeisance, you might not be as equipped to teach them as you think.
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Four-year-olds have strange relationships with toilets. It’s not uncommon to find a kid who’s terrified by an auto-flush feature, delighted by an auto-flush feature, averse to toileting whatsoever or obsessed with shoving things into the toilet to play a little game of “will it flush?” The point? If you give a curious classful of preschoolers access to a toilet, at least one of them is going to clog it.
It might not be pleasant or acceptable, but there are ways of dealing with it that don’t involve humiliating the kid responsible in front of his peers or having him stick his hands into a nasty toilet bowl. Maybe it will make the adult in the situation feel better, in a sort of spiteful, vindictive way, but it teaches the kid — especially one so young — nothing.
Well, almost nothing.
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To be fair, this little “teachable moment” will leave the kid with a lesson he won’t soon forget: School sucks, teachers are mean, and natural things like toileting will piss them off. Wow, three for the price of one! It’s really sad that this kid probably has an incredibly dim view of school when he hasn’t even truly started going yet, especially at a time when we need to be engaging boys in school more than we ever have before.
The school district doesn’t appear to be happy with the teacher’s decision, saying in a statement, “We take these allegations seriously… an investigation was immediately launched.” Huffman, for her part, isn’t interested in yanking her kid from school but wants him out of the teacher’s classroom, pronto. And who can blame her? Maybe this time her kid will get a preschool teacher who actually knows something about preschoolers and developmentally appropriate discipline.
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