Spare the Rod?
Once corporal punishment has been applied, just the threat is effective because it’s credible. Kids size up parents and teachers, and they know when an adult means what he/she says. If you bluff, you lose credibility and power. The table turns, and you’re responding to the child who controls the dynamic. Once lost, it’s very difficult to get that control back.
I can’t remember the first time my parents physically disciplined me, but I observed my older siblings getting it first. Third grade was the first time a teacher put her hands on me. Mrs. Gallagher, a confused older woman, wasn’t a very good teacher and I was usually bored. I don’t remember what I did, but she took ahold of my shoulders and shook me. I’d seen her do that to others and observed that she was inconsistent. The shaking didn’t hurt either. It became comical when students pretended to be dazed - crossing their eyes and sticking out their tongues when Mrs. Gallagher grabbed their shoulders and shook.
As I progressed up through the grades in Catholic schools, discipline got painful and my public school friends told me it was used there too. In seventh grade I remember snow just before recess - the kind perfect for making snowballs. Over the loudspeaker Mother Superior warned us that there would be no snowball-throwing but we couldn’t resist. We had a roaring good fight for the entire fifteen minutes while she observed with binoculars from an upper window and wrote down names. Back in our classrooms, she came over the loudspeaker again, saying: “The following students must report to the cafeteria immediately: Thomas McLaughlin, Albert Brackett, Daniel Sheehan . . .” and about ten others. Still dripping with melted snow, we filed down the stairwells to the basement cafeteria. There she was with her black outfit and stern look as we lined up against the wall. “I warned you,” she said, and walked up to Al Brackett who was first in line. She lifted his chin with two fingers of one hand and then slapped him with the other. The next boy got the same thing, and so on down the line. Finished, she said: “Return to your classrooms,” which we did, looking at each other with suppressed laughter as we climbed up the stairs.
In high school we were taught by Xaverian Brothers, some of them very tough guys. They hit hard, and there was very little laughing after getting smacked by one of them. The best teachers didn’t need to use corporal punishment though, because they were interesting. We respected them and wanted to stay in their good graces.
Marion County, Florida school board member Carol Ely is a former principal who supports paddling. She administered it for fourteen years and claims it’s very effective for chronic misbehavior. “The return rate of children for corporal punishment has been almost zero,” she said, and much more effective than suspension.
My first teaching job was with juvenile delinquents ages 14-18 in Lowell, Massachusetts where there were plenty. They’d been re-classified “emotionally disturbed” or “ED” as special education laws were implemented in 1975. Reform schools had just been closed down and former inmates came to our small, private school. The reclassification didn’t change their behavior however. When they became disruptive and would refuse to go to the headmaster’s office, I’d have to physically drag them down there with whatever force necessary. If I hadn’t been able to do that, I don’t see how I could ever have taught them effectively. Those kids were tough.
Trending in the other direction, Delaware state senator Patricia M. Blevins sponsored the legislation that outlawed spanking by parents. It “redefines the term ‘physical injury’ in the child abuse and neglect laws,” she explained, “to broadly include any act that causes ‘pain.’” If I were raising my family in today’s Delaware, I’d be an outlaw. When my daughters were fighting in the back seat during a long car ride and ignored me when I told them to stop, I’d cause them pain by reaching back and squeezing just above their knees. It worked very well, but I’d be a criminal in Delaware.
There’s more to write about where this liberalizing trend is going, so I’ll return to the subject in another column after the election.