The year was 1980, and I was in First Grade. I had a neighbor that I will call Sam, for his sake. He was in my class at school, and I knew that his life at home was not like mine, because I had been to his house and heard the way that his dad talked to him. It was the same way that Sam talked to our teacher. After one particularly explosive outburst in the hallway, our short, matronly, hair spray smelling teacher dragged Sam by the back of his shirt down the side hall, about 30 feet, to the principal’s office. There was shouting and you could feel the tension from where we stood, the stoic spectators and the unattended remainder of the First Grade class. Then you heard the sharp slap of wood and denim, and the screams from Sam echoing down the hallway. Shortly after, Sam and our teacher came out of the office, Sam supported by her small, firm grip under his arm, while Sam blubbered and sputtered his way back into line. It was awkward. No one talked to him the rest of the afternoon, and on the walk home he told me how weak that wimp of a principal was, and how he could kick his ass. I let Sam have his dignity back as much as I could. The next day Sam’s dad brought Sam to school, and he was none too happy.
That was 1980. That was another time, another century, another millenium. That was “back then.” It sure is a good thing that we don’t do that anymore.
In an article for the Associated Press yesterday, contributed to by the Washington Post and published on the website chron.com (a Houston area online resource) Temple, Texas is reported to have reinstated corporal punishment. Here is an excerpt from the article:
…Temple is unusual in that after banning the practice, the school district revived it last May at the request of parents who were nostalgic for the orderly schools of yesteryear. Without it, there weren’t any consequences for students, according to Steve Wright, Temple’s school board president.
Although only one student has been paddled in the past year, officials say the change in student behavior in Temple’s 14 public schools has been dramatic and they note fewer discipline problems.
Many of the parents who pushed for the change paddle their children at home and wanted consistent discipline in the classroom, said John Hancock, Temple’s assistant superintendent of administration.
“We’re rural central Texas,” Hancock said. “We’re very well educated, but still there are those core values. Churches are full on Sundays. This is a tool we’d like in the toolbox for responding to discipline issues.”
This is an expose on corporal punishment, so I don’t want to spend too much time beating up on John Hancock (Only in Texas). I have to make a few points, though, or I won’t respect myself in the morning. First, the general public is not always the best gauge of right and wrong and almost never should be the catalyst for public policy. I know that sounds like an anti-democratic statement, and maybe it is. This is not a Democracy, not really, rather we are a Republic. We vote for the representatives that we feel will represent our values most effectively. Those representatives have to make some hard decisions, but we do not operate from a place of mob rule. Shouting locals with torches and pitchforks do not make public policy. If they did, our schools would still be segregated and women would not be allowed to vote. Are those the days of yesteryear in which the people of Temple long for? Are those the Core Values that Hancock is referring to? If that is what constitutes public policy in Hancock, then perhaps Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y is right in introducing legislation that will put an end to the practice of corporal punishment. More on McCarthy later, let’s get back to Temple for now.
You will notice in the article that according to Steve Wright (are they making up these names?), Temple’s school board president, “without it [corporal punishment] there would be no consequences for students.” Does this not raise a few eyebrows? There are no consequences for students without spankings? Can you be a school board president with absolutely no idea of the progress in child development in the last century? I will have to agree with him on one point; that without any consequences for students in the schools, we will have to resort to spanking. I am not suggesting it is good in terms of public policy, but it is a fact.
All of this is outrageous, for sure, but I mentioned earlier that there were things that I would have to address in order to respect myself in the morning. Now I come to that point. Let us examine for a moment the statement from John Hancock, the assistant superintendent of administration. “We are very well educated,” Says Hancock, “but still there are those core values. Churches are full on Sundays. This is a tool we’d like in the toolbox for responding to discipline issues.” Let us take this one at a time, because he said so much with so little. We are educated but we still have core values? I am having a hard time with the idea that adding education might lead to subtracting some kind of core value. I won’t spend much time there, but I noticed it. I also noticed the real kicker – that somehow the fact that, though you are educated, you still have core values correlates directly with the fact that churches are full on Sundays and that the tool that you want in your toolbox, beating children into submission, is a core value that is upheld by church attendance.
I take great offense to the idea that church, as a place where we all go to more fully experience our spiritual walk, is a place that we might leverage for instituting school policy, let alone bad school policy. Using fear and punishment to intimidate children into standard behaviors is not the message of Jesus. Here is an example: the fourth chapter of the book of 1 John, in verse 18, states, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” That may not be something that you want to use in making public policy, but if it is not, then leave the church out of it.
My mother is a school teacher in northwest Missouri, and she claims to have to have had witnessed a spanking. That was 15 or 20 years ago, and it was a rare occaision back then. Also, she chose not to involve the administration from that point on, since that was not the outcome that she expected. She says that we all have to be accountable to our actions – teachers and children alike, and that teachers have to be accountable to the environment that they create in their classroom. Part of their job is to create a safe environment from which the children can learn and grow. By turning over the child to the authorities for physical punishement, she says, the teacher undermines his or her own authority to handle the children with respect and, therefore, loses the respect of the children. Corporal punishment does not teach respect. It undermines it.
Here is an idea, Temple Texas, create positive energy in the classroom with rewards and leverage those rewards
to help children understand the power of positive behavior. If you have to, take away their recess time, but respect their time outside as much as possible. Use these measures of consequence sparingly, and use positive reinforcement lavishly. Respect is not something that you can demand, it is only something that you can earn.
I will leave you with a quote from Rep. McCarthy on creating legislation banning corporal punishment: ““When you look at the fact that the federal government has outlawed physical punishment in prisons, I think the time has come that we should do it in schools.”
Amen to that.