I need to start with the original "Peel & Eat Kleenex" story. I originally posted this to my journal in April 2006. (Here's a link to the original.)
I've been buying Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues for my classroom lately. I have no data on whether they make a difference, but given how well diseases travel through schools, I figured it couldn't hurt. For the record, the active ingredients in Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues are citric acid and sodium lauryl sulfate [also known as sodium dodecyl sulfate, or SDS].
Today, one of my students [in my all-senior organic chemistry class] got out one of the tissues and told a classmate, "I've heard that these taste like lemon." He separated the plies from each other, and put the one with the blue dots all over it into his mouth. The acid was evidently a lot stronger than he was expecting, because he made the most amazing "OhMyGod this is DISGUSTING!" face, with vocals to match.
This is something you just don't do in front of your classmates, because it makes them wonder, "How bad can it be?" About half the class utterly failed to resist the urge to go up to the tissue box, peel and eat a tissue, and make similar faces and noises.
Then one of them got the bright idea to have a contest to see which of them could hold one of these tissues on his/her tongue the longest. (As Dave Barry often says, "I am not making this up.") I am very sorry that I didn't have a digital camera anywhere accessible, but the lineup was priceless. Six or seven students were lined up like contestants on a game show, each with their tongue hanging out with a tissue stuck to it, and a screwed-up, twisted, mangled, puckered-but-determined facial expression that screamed, "I CAN'T STAND THIS but I'm NOT going to be the first one to quit!"
By the end of the period, my entire abdomen was aching from laughing. And then, in the way that kids often do as they're leaving a classroom, they mentioned the event to their friends coming into my next class. And the entire scenario repeated itself the next period, right through the game-show contest. By the time the two classes were finished, about half a box of Kleenex had been eaten!
My tissue box now has a note written on it in black Sharpie, that says, "Do not peel & eat these tissues!" Yes, I realize that giving a command in the negative is practically an invitation. I'm evil that way.
I told this story to a friend who teaches Spanish to seventh-graders in a rough neighborhood, and who has some particularly difficult-to-manage kids. She started posting signs in her room in Spanish, with various "Dos" and "Don'ts". One of the signs, of course, translated to "Do not eat the tissues." After a few days, one of the kids noticed and asked why not. "Because it's a rule." "But why is it a rule." "Because they taste bad." "What if I want to eat one anyway?" "I'll tell you not to." After several rounds, the student couldn't stand it any more and ate the tissue, with predictable results.
She told me her story over the summer, claiming that this was in danger of becoming a classroom meme, and that teachers all over the world would soon be leading their unsuspecting students down the citric-acid-and-SDS path.
This year, I once again put out a tissue box with the same handwritten warning. So far, I've had two instances of students eating tissues in the first three days of school.
If you decide that you have a class that truly deserves to be told the "Peel & Eat Kleenex" story, please feel free to comment here with the results and/or email them to me at jcb [at] mit [dot] edu.