Never have I been paddled, which is the method of corporal punishment still legal in nineteen states. I have, however, been slapped many times — by several teachers and by one principal. Those who have gotten the paddle, the "board of education," the method most common in those states, claim paddles with holes in them hurt more. I wouldn’t know, but I’ll take their word for it.
I think it was in fifth grade at St. William’s School in Tewksbury, Massachusetts that a spring storm delivered three inches of snow perfect for snowballs — and just before recess. Our principal, Mother Edward Mary, anticipated trouble. Prior to the bell for outdoor recess to begin, she announced over the intercom that there will be no throwing of snowballs. Then she stood at a 2nd floor window overlooking the playground with binoculars to identify violators. In twenty minutes, she’d written a long list, and my name was on it.
Allowing time for us to return to our classrooms and put our boots and jackets away, she got on the intercom again to say, “The following boys will report to the cafeteria immediately: “Albert Brackett, Joseph Hedstrom, Thomas McLaughlin…” and about twenty others. All the classroom doors opened into the hallways and two dozen grim-faced boys filed silently down the stairs to the basement cafeteria where Mother Edward Mary told us to line up against the wall. “I told you not to throw snowballs,” she said. She approached the first boy, put the curled index finger of her left hand under his chin to lift his face to her, then slapped it — a stinging blow — with her right. She did the same to the second boy, and so on down the line. I was near the end.
When she was done, I tried hard not to look at Al Brackett because if our eyes met, I knew we would both start laughing. It wasn’t that the slap didn’t hurt, because it did. It was the exhilaration of perpetrating a shared bit of mischief and enduring the consequence collectively. It’s what we did back then, when boys would still be boys. It’s one way we bonded. Mother Superior — that was her other title — did what principals did. She was the school’s leader and insisted that rules be taken seriously. We all got that — no hard feelings. Our parents treated us the same way and none of it diminished our self-esteem. The adults were in charge, and there was security in that.
From St. William’s School, some of us went on to Keith Academy in nearby Lowell where we had Xaverian Brothers as teachers. Strong as Mother Edward Mary was, most of them were stronger. I can attest that they hit considerably harder and only once can I say that I didn’t deserve it. Every other time, more than a dozen, I had it coming. Brother Dennis hit hardest, but we all liked him. He was fair, and he liked us too. He never said it, but we knew. I think he saw himself in us.
Most of my friends went to public school and corporal punishment was common there too. One of the most respected men at Tewksbury High School was Joe Crotty. He was assistant principal in charge of discipline and my friends were frequent visitors to his office. If he closed the door, they’d get a thrashing, but they didn’t take it personally either. They all liked Joe. He had a job to do and he was fair. He liked them too and they knew it.
I suspect it’s much the same way in those nineteen states still allowing people like Mother Edward Mary, Brother Dennis, and Joe Crotty to do their jobs without threat of lawsuits. According to people calling in to a recent Laura Ingraham Show, students who misbehave were offered a choice: suspension or paddling. Most callers chose paddling because they could “get it over with quickly.” Others said they misbehaved because they wanted a few days off under suspension.
My first teaching job was a two-year stint at a private school for juvenile delinquents in Lowell They had been re-diagnosed under the new special ed law as “emotionally disturbed.” I never hit any of them, but I did have to forcibly remove some from my classroom when they refused to leave on their own. The age range was 14-18 and some were my size or bigger. If the big ones resisted there was a ruckus, but I always managed to deliver them to Dr. Herrmann’s office down the hall. He was a former running back at Kansas State. He would take them inside and close the door, just like Joe Crotty did.
That was in the mid 1970s and most states have “progressed” since then, banning corporal punishment. Schools are much better now, don’t you think?