Spare the rod and spoil the student

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By John Pawlak

It was decades ago, but I remember it well. The teacher had caught me chewing gum in class – clearly a capital offense. Fortunately, drawing and quartering children had long gone out of style but spanking had not. As a sixth grader, I was young, but I did have a sense of pride. And so when the teacher walked over with a paddle and told me to bend over, I spit out my gum and told her to go bend over herself.

Yeah, I was suspended, but on the bright side, I wasn’t spanked. We were new to Ohio. I had only been in school for a week before I witnessed the first spanking in my class. A girl put her hands on her desk, bending over as the teacher whacked her fanny with a “holey” paddle (the holes were designed to make it hurt more). It was the first time I had ever seen something like this, and even as a child I thought it was barbaric.

And yet some people still think this is education at its best.

Corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed in almost all of Europe. Here in the United States though, we enjoy a good smack now and then. Corporal punishment is still allowed and practiced in 20 states.

In the 2006-2007 school year, over 220,000 children across the United States received corporal punishment. Mississippi boasted the highest percentage of beatings with an admirable claim of hitting 7.5 percent of their students. Texas had a lower percentage, but with its hefty population, it also got to brag at having beat nearly 50,000 of its students in that time frame. You know the song: “The stars at night, are big and bright ­— whack! whack! whack! whack! — Deep in the heart of Texas!”

The U.S. DOE defines corporal punishment as “Paddling, spanking, or other forms of physical punishment imposed on a student.” As bad as paddling and spanking is, the phrase, “other forms,” leaves quite a bit to the imagination (especially in a nation that considers waterboarding “alternative interrogation”).

Sadly, corporal punishment is still legal in New Mexico. New Mexico Public School Code 22-5-4.3 states, “Each school district creates rules of conduct which may include corporal punishment.” No specifics are given to define under what circumstances corporal punishment is allowed. I suppose that, technically, a teacher could whack a kid for whistling. I must admit, I never could abide happy children. (If they’re smiling, they must not be trying hard enough to factor that cubic!)

Corporal punishment has a long history and having people bend over and get spanked is only one form of punishment (in some areas of New York City it’s considered a treat). Flogging was quite popular on navy ships of early civilizations. Well, popular with the guys doing the flogging, that is. And of course, there were other jolly forms of punishment that have gone out of style ... stockades, pulling fingernails, the rack, caning, and a festive whipping now and then.

Okay ... I’m digressing, right? Well, not all that much. China only recently outlawed beatings and electro-shock therapy for the “treatment of internet addiction.” The practice was condemned after a teenager died. Try to imagine the punishment for talking back to a teacher!

Here in America, corporal punishment in schools usually involves as a ritual spanking, a tempered slap, or having Sister Agnes break your knuckles with a splintery old ruler. The question is ­— does it have any benefits at all? What exactly does a 7-year old child learn when being whacked by a 55-year-old teacher? Does it teach anything useful?

“Yes”, claims Principal David Nixon of John C. Calhoun Elementary in Calhoun Hills, S.C.. His two-foot paddle is prominently displayed in his office and is used to “teach” youngsters the meaning of discipline. He claims that he dislikes using it, but that doesn’t stop him from hitting first and second graders. Oddly enough, most of the school’s parents support the use of Nixon’s paddle.

Not being a parent, perhaps I’m not qualified to criticize the use of corporal punishment. Maybe a good whack across the head makes students understand Spanish conjugations better.

A belt across the back helps them interpret Walt Whitman’s poems with greater ease? A good twist of an arm or a bruising squeeze of the neck drives home the concept of balancing chemical equations?

Or perhaps it’s just easier to beat kids rather than spend time to come up with a way to teach them an alternative, desirable behavior. New Mexico stands proudly in line with other monuments of education such as Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas ... you know, the deep-thinking states. Let’s hear it for “No Child Left Unbeaten.”