Listen to talk radio and sooner or later you’ll hear somebody, most likely old and conservative, call in and say this country would be in a lot better shape if corporal punishment were used in the public schools.
That call is usually followed by a conscientious young mother who passionately affirms her belief that spanking is nothing less than child abuse and no teacher or school administrator has the right to lay a hand or her child or anyone else’s.
I lived through corporate punishment. I went to elementary school in Batavia, Ohio in the 1960s, where it was standard practice. For the record, I got swats for talking in seventh grade study hall–something that is sure to bring a law suit now. With that notable exception, in general, I was well-behaved and attentive in class, along with everyone else. So obviously corporal punishment worked.
I can’t speak for everyone I went to school with, but on the whole we were not in favor of it. We thought it sucked. But we didn’t question it. We were spanked at home, it made perfect sense that we could be spanked at school.
If anyone did complain to their parents about it, the typical answer was “Well, do what your teacher says, and you won’t get paddled.”
I don’t recall feeling abused at school. It wasn’t like we sat down at our desks every morning, cowering in fear of the beatings that were sure to come. It didn’t happen that often and when someone did get swats, it was always one of the “usual suspects.”
These boys were tough, though. They took it like men. They gritted their teeth and didn’t make a sound. And they didn’t cry, that’s for sure.
You’d think the teachers would have figured out that with these kids, corporal punishment was failing as a means of behavior modification. I’m pretty sure they knew that. My guess is they used it to keep the rest of us in line.
Except it wasn’t the paddle that kept us in line. It was our parents. These were people who’d lived through the Great Depression and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. They drilled into us that it was our duty to work hard in school and respect the teacher, and not to forget that if we ever got in trouble at school, we’d get into trouble at home too. And most of the time, they would believe the teacher over us.
It was a different time. Nobody’s mother worked. There were only three channels on television and it was all soap operas and game shows when you came home from school. There was no internet and no violent video games. There was a strict dress code at school. Who’s to say which of these things caused us to sit quietly at our desks and pay attention to Mrs. Whosits?
In education, theories come and go about behavior management. Kids do need limits. And I can tell you that corporal punishment will not warp you for life.
But it still sucks. And it doesn’t work.