To The Laconia Sun,
In a recent letter to The Sun, Bev Buker implies that the answer for school kids with emotional problems is to hit them. She specifically targeted "bi polar" kids. Does she know what that term means? I wonder if she also advocates this for children with learning disabilities? There was a time when kids with emotional issues and learning disabilities like ADHD were labeled as "bad" and worthy of a "whuppin'".
One supposes Ms. Buker is one of those people with nostalgia, with a longing for the "good old days" which, as any historian can tell you, really never existed except in myth. Most of us were raised with "when I was your age" and how things better and worse in the "good old days". Unlike some writers to The Sun maintain, education was not necessarily better in their day. One thing that was worse was the use of corporal punishment in schools.
I have studied school corporal punishment and I am also of a generation to have had more practical exercises in the topic. It was common then and few questioned it. In 1st grade the teacher hit students over the head with the larger, teachers' editions of our textbooks. She also slapped students on the face, In 2nd grade, the teacher and her principal, used a ping pong paddle. My 3rd grade teacher used a yard stick across the back of the thighs while another teacher, in the 4th grade, made students sit in what she called her "torture chair" while she beat them across the top of the thighs with a ruler. My junior high principal used a paddle.
Kids with what today would be considered learning disabilities were often punished corporally. In 2nd grade, I had problems in math and especially with adding two-digit numbers and "carrying". I got paddled for that. Needless to say, it resulted in my not being overly fond of math for a long time — until I realized I was better at it than I (or others) thought.
In junior high school, the principal administered to me what we kids called "cracks" a few times and at the time, I believed I "deserved" it so usually "took it like a man". However, the last time he paddled me, I had done nothing wrong and so he had to fight for that last paddling. Eventually, with the help of other teachers he won but not before his office was a wreck. No one had ever stood up to him before and after he had calmed down, he called me in and said that in the future he would paddle me when he judged it appropriate and I was to take it. But, he never paddled me again.
Of course, for more minor offenses, teachers often made students write sentences over and over such as, "I will never again talk back to the teacher while chewing gum (or tobacco) in class." I guess technically, writing sentences could be a form of corporal punishment since it resulted in writers' cramp. I wonder how many kids were turned off to writing because of these useless exercises used in a punitive manner?
But that was far better than my 8th grade science teacher who punished the whole class by making us hold hands and one person at each end of the line hold a wire connected to a hand-cranked generator. I heard he went on to teach criminal justice at the college level. I always wondered if he served as an advisor to some dictatorship's secret police organization that used electric shock as a form of torture.
While one might concede that parents may have a very limited right to employ physical punishment (such as mom slapping a toddlers hand when he or she reaches for a boiling pot of water), it should not be allowed in any school. Except in the case mentioned above, parents should not hit kids either. I know a lot of parents who have raised perfectly normal and well-behaved kids without resorting to corporal punishment.
As for educators, they often did not administer it fairly. In many cases, teachers had favorites and "whipping boys". Even the "good old days" there were many teachers and administrators who ran good schools without the paddle so there is no excuse educators who feel the need to hit kids should think about another profession. Except in the case mentioned above, parents should not hit kids either. I know a lot of parents who have raised perfectly normal and well-behaved kids without resorting to corporal punishment.
However, the days of corporal punishment in schools are far from over. Today, many school districts have abolished corporal punishment but it still exists in a number of public schools, often in the South. When I was teaching at a college in Missouri, I partnered with a high school where the students were taking a course from me via two-way television. One day, as class was coming to an end, the high school principal came into their studio and I said, " Hi, Mr. ____. You have some hard-working and smart students there." He said, "well of course. We still use the 'board of education' around here." I thought he must be joking but after he left the students told me he was not.
Even in many states where it has been abolished, it is still legal in private schools. While Catholic school students no longer have to fear the nuns rapping their knuckles with a ruler, corporal punishment still exists in a lot of evangelical "Christian" schools. In cases where it is permitted in public and/or private schools, parents have to write a note authorizing the school to paddle their child. I am not sure that his is a "right" that parents can sign away to school officials. What about the rights of the child?
In spite of claims to the contrary, few adults, parents or teachers, hit kids solely "for their own good". Adults usually hit kids for the same reason they hit adults: because they are angry. Corporal punishment amounts to a form of child abuse and should be outlawed in all states as it has been in many other countries. I am not sure what "lesson" corporal punishment teaches unless it is that big people can bully little people with the threat of violence. This may not be a lesson we want to teach.
E. Scott Cracraft
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