Saturday, November 26, 2005

An Off-the-cuff Serial Autobiography (An Episode of 1969)

Spare the Rod, Ichabod Shaw -- 1969

As a beginning teacher in 1969 I was philosophically opposed to corporal punishment, even though it was routinely used in almost all southern schools. I explained my hesitation to use such a brutal method of classroom management to my good friend, Mike, who was teaching in an inner city school. Mike scoffed at my high and mighty attitude.

“You’ll spank,” he declared, “Wait till a few spit wads whiz past your noggin. And when you do, let me explain how to do it.”

He proceeded to describe how to administer one very hard whack to the buttocks in a way definitely memorable to the spankee, but not likely to cause bruising or lasting injury.

A few weeks later the teaching principal, Mr. Smith, called me in to watch his class for the afternoon while he attended a meeting at the central office. He stood me before his 35 coalmine town seventh graders, several a head or more taller and pounds heavier than me.

“This is Mr. Shaw, your substitute teacher. Mr. Shaw will not hesitate to use the Black Dragon,” he proclaimed as he pulled a two foot long paddle made of oak and wrapped in black electrical tape out of a drawer and laid it on the desk, “so you had best behave!”

As Mr. Smith left the building the spit wads began to fly. Another thirty minutes and philosophy gave way to reality. I waved the Black Dragon in desperation and picked my victim from the many candidates.

“Rocky, come with me to the cloakroom,” I growled at the biggest, meanest boy in the school. I hoped the class would not notice my hands quaking as I followed him out of the classroom.
“Empty your back pockets and put your hands on the wall.”

Rocky did as he was told - with a bit of a smirk on his face. Following Mike’s instructions I swung the Dragon in an upward arc and whacked the fleshiest section of the boy’s hind parts once only.

It may have only been my ears, but the report of that paddle rivaled any gun I’d heard. I was convinced every human ear within a mile had heard it. I was sure my career was over before it could really begin. Surely someone would call the cops. I felt tears welling in my own eyes, but managed to choke out a fairly even, “Rocky, I hope you have learned your lesson. Now go have a seat.”

To my astonishment Rocky answered meekly, “Yes, Sir.” As he turned toward the classroom I saw big tears glistening in his eyes.

His classmates had heard the whack and they saw the tears.
All was changed. A pin drop in that classroom would have snapped every head to attention. Lessons proceeded with quiet earnestness.

That was the only paddling I administered that year. Rocky did not seem hurt physically or emotionally, and in fact, changed his ways. He even joined and took a leadership role in the boys’ club I organized in the community as part of my Teacher Corps duties.

Paddlings had some advantages. They did stop bad behavior, at least temporarily. Paddlings were over quickly and lessons could go forward without the drawn-out sermonizing by the teacher and extended pouting by the student that often accompany the “time-outs”, school “discipline forms”, “in-school suspension”, etc. of today.

We no longer paddle students in our schools: that is good. But I am convinced that a paddling was needed that day in 1969. I don't regret it.


  1. Janice8:22 PM

    I'm not so sure about the line "we long paddle and that's good." There is something about a paddling that is very good -- it makes the point, it's over with quickly, the student knows that it is over. Other forms of punishment linger -- there's no beginning or end and no sense of completion -- guilt and shame continue. I'm not for beatings or paddling or spanking done in anger and out-of-control, but I like a form of discipline that settles the matter definitively so that the person in the wrong knows he has paid the price and can move on.

  2. I agree, Jan, but I am glad not to have the option of paddling any more. I had to administer way too many of them my four years as assistant principal at McHenry. Now it seems really strange that paddling was so routine.

    I recommended a paddling a couple of years ago, though. A dad asked, "Mr. Shaw what would you do about Johnny's behavior?" I replied, "Mr. Smith, if Johnny were my son, I'd give him a good unemotional spanking, and tell him I expect him to never behave that way again." I don't know what the Dad did. I'm not even sure I should have said it. But he asked, and that is what I would have done. The boy had had opportunities to change his behavior and hadn't. The imperative of change needed to be impressed upon him -- by way of his backside.