‘Board of education’ encounters can be good

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 25, 2008

In the 12 years I spent pursuing an education through theelementary and secondary grades, I was sent to the principal’soffice exactly one time. And during that one and only time, I gotmy first paddling.

It happened one day during seventh grade after a classmate and Igot into a bit of scuffle at the start of study hall.

I can’t remember the reason and it really doesn’t matter. What Iremember is that, even though I was on the wrong end of a headlock,I got sent to the principal’s office too.

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Once there, my fellow combatant and I were give the option ofthree days in-school suspension, a 1,000-or-so-word essay on sometopic of zero importance or three licks from the paddle.

Hmmm, let’s consider these options: Miss three days of classtime and suffer a setback in my educational pursuit, tire out myhand writing a bunch of words nobody’s going to read or have a painin the behind for however long the paddle’s sting will last. Thiswas not a difficult decision for me – or my classmate.

And so we “assumed the position.”

The principal, who happened to be the father of one of my soccerteammates, administered the first lick. It provided somewhat of anumbing effect because I hardly remember receiving the othertwo.

My junior high experience came to mind this week while I read anAssociated Press story on a report examining instances of corporalpunishment. I have no doubt other – shall we say – mature readerscan recall their own encounters with the “board of education,” orsome other clever euphemism for the principal’s paddle.

The tone of the story left the impression that children acrossthe South, particularly in Mississippi and Texas, were beingroutinely beaten at school. I have my doubts.

Given that only nine out of 40 people contacted in the twostates responded to follow-up requests for specific recollections,I suspect the comments may be weighted toward the negative. I mean,if you’ve got an avenue to express a beef with something, aren’tyou more apt to speak up than if you’ve only got something positiveto say?

Think about it like this. When dining out, how many times haveyou complained to restaurant management about something bad versushow many times you’ve sincerely offered praise for greatservice?

The study, conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union andHuman Rights Watch, also indicated that African American studentswere being disproportionately paddled and that Special Educationstudents were more likely to be spanked as well. I can’t speak tothose cases, other than to say any unjustified paddlings are notproper and Special Ed children should be given as much leeway andunderstanding as possible.

And not being a parent, some may say I’m not qualified to speakon the corporal punishment issue at all.

Well, having been on the receiving end of a paddling, I can sayit made me not want to make a return trip to the principal’soffice. Contrary to my experience, the study suggested thatpaddlings were having the opposite effect on kids these days,breeding resentment and a desire for continued misbehavior.

I believe some current educational trends of excessive concernswith self-esteem building, social promotions despite students’having not learned the material and multiple valedictorians in someareas aren’t creating model cases, either. Life’s not fair, andeducational endeavors that suggest otherwise do as much of adisservice to students as paddlings may.

While there are bad apples in any bunch, many of the students Iinteract with still show courtesy and respect to their elders bysaying “sir” or “ma’am.”

Their parents, I’m sure, grew up under their parents’ edicts of”get a paddling at school, get a paddling when you get home.” Oneperson quoted in the story suggested it was just, sort of, that wayin the South.

Parental involvement, including instilling a healthy respect forauthority, plays a huge role in a child’s development. And althoughI don’t have any statistical data, my experience suggests thatparents who practiced the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child”philosophy have turned out some pretty good kids.

While a trip to the office should not be a license forprincipals to “swing for the fences,” students and parents need tounderstand that an encounter with the “board of education” is notnecessarily a bad thing.

Write to Matthew Coleman at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS39602, or send e-mail to mcoleman@dailyleader.com.