Wednesday, January 12, 2022

An Eleventh Open Letter to the School District

Dear folks in charge of the decision making down at the School District,

I am writing you today to report a major oversight in your governance of our school system.

I have recently become a substitute teacher.

No, that is not the oversight I’m talking about, but honestly, I’m not one hundred percent sure what you people were thinking there, either. I mean, I’m going to follow all the rules and do a good job, but did you even read the first ten letters I sent you? All I can say is you must truly be as desperate for subs as you advertise to be!

It didn’t take more than my first sub job at a local elementary school to discover the crazy situation has been allowed to fester at our nation’s schools for the last fifty (at least) years.

I am, of course, talking about the paper towels.

I assume you have regular paper towels down at the district office, so you probably don’t even know what I’m referring to. There I was, after the first recess, with a long line of sixth-graders washing their hands at the classroom sink. After they were seated and working on their next assignment, I went back to the sink to handle the inevitable tsunami flood of water left on the Formica countertop.

The dispenser on the wall above the faucet had changed from the 1970s’ white metal box with the silver crank handle, to a more modern, rounded, black plastic unit with a smoke-colored lid, but the roll of “paper” towels inside was the same.

I pulled down on the bottom of the sheet, just above the recently separated sawtooth pattern from the previous one, shocked to find I was holding the same 8x10 section of ridiculous brown material from my youth that resides on the paper scale somewhere between heavy-duty construction paper and a tan canvas painter’s tarp.

Brown school paper towels have a strong initial resistance to liquids, followed by the strange, almost mystical ability to get instantly soaking wet, while actually soaking up zero percent of the standing water.

None, whatsoever.

It truly doesn't matter if you have one school paper towel or thirty, you can't get the puddle up off the Formica counter. All you can do is transfer most of it to the floor.

You would honestly have better luck trying to wipe up the counter with a sheet of fruit leather or some kid’s backpack. (Not that I attempted either of those things…)

In another life, I was an engineer for a sawmill equipment company. Whenever I visited sawmills, I always wondered what they did with all the leftover tree bark. They would scrape it all off the logs before they went into the mill, and there was A LOT of bark. I mean, not all of it can become landscape material, right?

Now I know. They have been using the excess bark to make school paper towels all these years. That explains their water absorbency issues and why they are brown. You get the exact same results from a school paper towel that you would if you tried to clean up the countertop with a log.

And I realize that no one blows their nose at school anymore, since anyone with a slightly runny nose would have been automatically red-flagged and quarantined during the morning at-home health assessment prior to the school day. But if we ever do get back to attending school while also having allergies, let me assure you, you might as well grab a sheet of 120-grit sandpaper over one of those brown paper towels. Blowing your nose with sandpaper would be much more enjoyable and far less likely to cause bleeding.

Please consider making this one issue your lasting legacy. Sure, education is important and stuff, but if you were the people that finally got actual real, usable, soft, absorbent paper towels (like the ones at your office and home) into our schools, they would sing songs about you for generations to come. There would be big bronze statues of you across the country.

You could not only unite our nation, but the entire world.

I’m not overstating that. If you doubt the urgency and magnitude of this issue, just go try to blow your nose with a log. You’ll get the picture.

Yours in educational excellence through continued partnership,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


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