Culture Gap: Students Cleaning Toilets

Different Strokes

I was reading this story about an American teacher placed on administrative leave for having an unwritten rule requiring students to clean the classroom toilet with paper towels and bleach. Well, there’s definitely a serious culture gap here.

In Japan, students are responsible for cleaning toilets on a daily basis. Apparently, in the interests of not bringing upon chemical accidents, this cleaning is done with water, not with cleaning solutions. I doubt that this is the whole story, as there’s probably people who can be brought in to do serious jobs with serious chemicals (with zero student involvement), but students are otherwise heavily involved in the public sanitation of schools.

The principle here is that it’s their school, and they should be personally and collectively responsible for its maintenance. They’re not passive tourists; they’re part of the institution. I find the attitude commendable, though again, without being at one to know all details of all things, I don’t want to assume anything about the full story. Suffice to say the attitude alone is very different.

Back to this American example, the teacher may have had the right idea in some sense, but first of all, it wasn’t approved policy… and more importantly, using “paper towels and a cleaner” – and that cleaner being bleach – was an open invitation for trouble.

As it turns out, the two year policy was exposed because one student had an allergy to bleach that caused his hands to have an allergic reaction. (Using paper towels without the protection of gloves invites such things. I wouldn’t recommend it for people without known allergies, for that matter.)

So naturally his mother was like, you shouldn’t be doing that – that should be the custodian! (People once called janitors in another lifetime.)

So again, it’s not necessarily that the principle wasn’t something a lot of people would wish was more broadly applied; it’s that no rule ought to be applied in an absolute manner, without exceptions, and good intentions can go very awry. – J

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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3 Responses to Culture Gap: Students Cleaning Toilets

  1. Michael Bradish says:

    Like we say here, ” Your mama doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself.”

  2. Fluidly Unsure says:

    Newspaper ink and chalk dust allergies do exist. Should a teacher be disciplined for having students read the stock market section or use a black board?

    Is requiring a student with asthma to attend PE worse than not giving students a chance to exercise their bodies? Students can be excused from PE with a letter from a parent and physician.

  3. J Sensei J Sensei says:

    That’s why this should never have been done under the table and behind the back of the principal. If it’s not an official policy and the parents don’t even know about it, the only way a student with an allergy would be excused is by winning a battle of wills with an adult (the teacher) unassisted by any independent authority.

    A Japanese native I have come to know on Facebook for about a month now has kindly pointed out to me the missing details concerning Japanese school toilet cleaning practices. Apparently there are no custodians; teachers do the serious cleaning work, while students do what is within their capabilities and without using chemicals, precisely because everyone’s expected to do it, yet allergies could interfere with that. But it is not, as I saw one blogger claim, that their toilets go without being sanitized for 6 months at a time. (I was like, get real! Disease would have every single school shut down if it was like that.) Parents are invited to help clean the toilets and so on during semester breaks, along with students and teachers. Many do.

    I’m trying to decide who would complain the most bitterly if this was tried in Canada or the US: students, teachers, or parents? I’m thinking parents, closely followed by teachers.