You’re Not Going To Believe This
I live in an OECD country that has a fairly respectable standard of living and reasonably respected educational system. I also have an eight year old nephew who told me something that really got me wondering about all that.
For a school assignment, he had to prepare a two minute speech on something that he was passionate about. It is a testament to the quality of our educational system that eight year olds are encouraged to embrace causes with passion. The topic he chose, which is alarming in itself, is the deplorable state of the restrooms in his school. He may be passionate about clean toilets, but was even more passionate about his speech going well and he therefore has taken every opportunity to rehearse it in front of attentive and supportive family audiences.
The speech is very entertaining but also rather horrifying if one looks at the subtextual issues being explored. Even allowing for a bit of youthful hyperbole, the state of the toilets in the school must be shocking. And it’s not some sort of institutional problem, like Dickensian management not providing amenities such as toilet paper or nightly cleaning. The problem is that the little dears who use the toilets behave most indecorously.
I’ll spare you the details, but if you’ve ever been to a sporting event or rock concert in which the facilities are taxed to the utmost, you will get some idea of what these school toilets are like at the end of the day. Worse, however, is that a lot of the problem is self-inflicted—graffiti, toilet paper wads on the ceiling, and, get this, painting of the walls with excrement.
In the speech, my nephew stated that the problem was people “wiping the wall with used toilet paper.” I told him flatly that I didn’t believe that could happen. Why would anyone do that? What possible point is there to such behaviour? In a tone that implied that he thought he was answering my not so rhetorical questions, he said, “Actually, I don’t think they used toilet paper. I think it was a ‘butt skid.’”
“A butt skid?”
To put it delicately, a butt skid involves sliding one’s bottom across the wall while defecating. My “no way” was countered with round eyed nods from both him and his six year old brother who goes to the same school.
So here you have kids attending a school where they are learning things. And that is one of the things they are learning. And it is so common, so quotidian, that it has actually been given a name.
There are a number of questions that come to mind, and all of them center on the question of why. I can’t think of a single answer that fills me with anything like comfort. Why in a world of paranoia over head lice, swine flu and repetitive motion problems would someone do something so antithetical to the concepts of good hygiene? Why in a world of Sesame Street, Barney, Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine where decorum and good manners and being polite are drummed into the audience would someone do something so antisocial? Why in a world of video games, flat screen TV, the internet and cell phones where these kids supposedly channel so much energy would someone still have the motivation to rub their butt on the wall while crapping?
Who is to blame for this? I don’t know. I fervently hope that they don’t learn this behavior at home. Maybe it’s the fault of the toilet paper companies. Based on their commercials, you would never guess what their product is really intended to do. Maybe they are responsible for this gap in our kids’ knowledge.
Anyway, next week is the kids’ school program and we have been invited. I might venture into the restrooms to see conditions for myself. Or maybe I won’t drink or eat anything for a few days before just to make sure I don’t have to use them.