A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece about the practice of paddling students in school. At the time, I claimed I was an expert regarding corporal punishment since I had regularly received paddlings for a multitude of school misbehaviors from talking without permission to fighting.
At the time, I wrote it as a way to get under the skin of the politically correct who believe that students who break school rules and thus receive punishment in the form of a board to their backside was a form of child abuse.
Besides, the way I saw it, I came from a culture where strong punishment both at home and at school was a way of life. Whenever I talk with others from my generation, we seem dumbfounded at the notion that getting what we and our parents knew would come our way if we broke school rules is now viewed by the enlightened as an atrocity.
I know of no one over the age of 50 who believes that the discipline we received in the '50s and '60s was abusive. In fact, it's just the opposite. Many of us, including myself, believe that if we were to grow up in this day and age, we would either be heavily medicated or locked up. We tend to believe that it was the strong discipline we received that allowed us to graduate and go on to be successful adults.
What is particularly grating to my generation is the world we now see around us. What are we supposed to believe when we see kids killing each other, killing themselves, running amok in flash mobs, creating chaos in our schools and then complaining that no one understands them? It is a young world that we find difficult to empathize with. So if only they had the discipline that we had, all the world would be good.
So what's got me going now? Well, some issues never go away. Lo and behold, I pick up a recent copy of USA Today, and I come across an article titled, “Paddling: A Divisive Form of Discipline.” The piece notes that 19 states still allow corporal punishment, and, of course, one of them is Indiana. But that's misleading, since although it may be allowed, I don't know of any Hoosier school district that currently uses paddling as a way to deal with student misbehavior.
Most of the states that still utilize corporal punishment are in the south, including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.
Traditionally, our courts have supported corporal punishment in schools. But that is not to say that the mere threat of a parent suing a school district doesn't send shivers down a school board's spine. School districts certainly have more important priorities to spend their money on than frivolous lawsuits. So they choose to not even go down that path.
For those states that have banned corporal punishment, there is probably no going back. And what about the states that still allow it? As stated in the USA Today piece, “Efforts to ban paddling nationally in U.S. schools have fallen short. Similar statewide legislative initiatives recently in Florida, Louisiana and Texas also have gained little support.”
Of course, schools utilize a variety of other disciplines including community service, in-school and out-of-school suspensions, timeouts, etc.
Still it is hard to let go of the old adage, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” But I've had a change in the way I look at this issue.
I now believe that if those approaches that I'd just mentioned, the suspensions and the timeouts, had been used when I was growing up, then I tend to think that they would have been just as effective then as were the paddlings.
Why do I believe that? Because my generation, like all that came before us, were held accountable. A wrong was a wrong and there was little confusion about it. We grew up with families. Faith still meant something from the church to the home and, yes, even in the public schools. Issues concerning right and wrong were understood by most everyone.
Parents supported educators and did not confront teachers because Junior got a failing mark for failing to take his studies seriously. Drug use was shunned, and the headlines weren't dominated by another act of school violence. Our parents didn't tolerate us acting like jerks, and we had better make sure our shirts were tucked in when we got on the school bus every morning. The small things were dealt with, meaning, of course, if you couldn't get away with talking out of turn, you sure weren't going to get away with something big like swearing at a teacher.
It is our culture that has failed, not school discipline. I didn't always get paddled. Sometimes I had to stand in the corner, and there were the times I had to miss recess and write sentences on the blackboard. No matter what form the punishment took, it all mattered. I was held accountable by those people charged with the responsibility of not only educating me in mind, but also teaching me about civility and accountability. Schools, with the support of the community, turned out not only students with strong cognitive skills, but good citizens.
I guess it's easier to go after those who still believe that the paddle represents a viable reproach to those children who break the rules than to take responsibility for our own national self-destruction.