No Janitors, No Problem? School Requires All Students To Serve As Unpaid Custodial Staff

174810700Cleanliness is next to godliness, and if you’re a student at Oregon’s Armadillo Technical Institute, cleanliness might also be next to Algebra or World History. NPR reports that students at this grade 6-12 charter school are required to devote half an hour twice a week to provide the janitorial services that the school doesn’t pay for.

For a half-hour period after lunch, all of the school’s students participate in a rotating slate of chores. Some sweep up, some scrub bathrooms, others dust, and the task assigned to a particular student changes every week so that no one has to spend the entire school year stuck with the unpleasant task of cleaning the boys’ bathrooms. Or the girls’ bathrooms–those are also gross, in my experience.

All this is part of the school’s plan to create a sense of ownership in the school among their student base (and I’m sure the financial savings don’t hurt, either); and, according to school communications director Sharon Shafer, “We’re trying to train them for life[.] They’re all going to go to college. No one is going to clean their dorm room for them.” Funny thing about that; I did go to college and while I managed to clean my dorm room and do my laundry, no one ever handed me a mop and asked me to do a quick touch-up on the floors in the Biomedical and Physical Sciences building.

The idea of crowdsourcing custodial work to a school’s students first made big waves on the national scene when Newt “Not A Real Amphibian” Gingrich suggested it during his most recent failed bid at the presidency. Gingrich’s suggestion, pushing to get rid of unionized janitors in favor of having local students push brooms and scrub toilets, was bad enough, but at least he included something that Armadillo Technical Institute left out of their plan: his plan included paying students for their work.

Getting students invested in their school is a worthy goal, and asking them to clean up their own messes is eminently reasonable. But asking them to serve as the school’s unofficial custodial staff? Since this is taking place in the context of a school, let’s consider what lesson they’re learning here. Requiring them to serve as free janitorial workers tells them to undervalue the work that actual custodians are paid to do (“I did it for free, so why do they want a union and a living wage?” It tells the sixth- and seventh-graders, who probably don’t get a recess period, that even though they’re still really children their opportunity to grow and learn from play is less important than a clean whiteboard. And it┬átells these students that their own labor has no value. On the bright side, though? The high school seniors will be well-prepared for that future unpaid internship.

(Image: JoeDPhoto / Getty)

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