Back in 1981, when I was in the fourth grade, I had a teacher who had a paddle that was shaped like a whale. it was a common joke among his students that whenever someone misbehaved, they would get a “whaling”. The teacher would call the kid up to the front of the classroom, tell him or her to bend over and place his or her hands on the chalkboard, and prepare for a public flogging. I had heard about Mr. A’s whale shaped paddle the year before, when one of my neighbors had him as a teacher. He often told me about some of the kids who were paddled in front of the class.
I was nervous the following year when I had Mr. A as a teacher. He turned out to be a good enough teacher, entertaining, encouraging, and energetic. But he still had that whale paddle and paddled several students in front of the class. Then one day, it happened to me. Thirty years later, I still haven’t forgotten the pain and humiliation of that day.
I was sitting at my desk. We had just taken a quiz and Mr. A had asked everyone to exchange papers so that we could grade our neighbor’s work. He told us to be quiet. I told the girl in front of me that my paper might be a little messy. Apparently, that was enough to warrant a paddling. Mr. A called me up to the front of the classroom, told me to bend over and place my hands on the blackboard, and then proceeded to paddle me in front of a bunch of nine year olds. I don’t remember the paddling hurting that much, but I do remember being extremely upset and humiliated by it. I doubt I learned anything else that day at school.
I went home that afternoon and my parents wanted to know why I was so upset. I told them about Mr. A’s whale shaped paddle. My dad, who was always a big proponent of corporal punishment, said I deserved it. In fact, he acted like he wanted to give me a repeat performance of the corporal punishment. My mom was more concerned and seemed very upset that this man had hit me in front of my peers. Unfortunately, she did nothing about it, thus letting me know loud and clear that she wouldn’t protect me from other adults. I later ended up being sexually abused by a trusted neighbor with a penchant for pornography.
I am not a big believer in corporal punishment. It was the way my father usually disciplined me and as far as I can tell, it lead mostly to fear, anger, and humiliation. To this day, I don’t have the best relationship with my father for many reasons, a lot of which stem from the fact that he almost always used violent means to “teach” me right from wrong. As much as I think it’s inappropriate for parents to overuse corporal punishment, I think it’s even less appropriate for educators to use it in schools, especially when it’s done in front of other students.
Elementary aged kids are notoriously cruel to each other. I speak from experience when I state that having your teacher hit you in front of your peers just prolongs what should be a brief punishment. Moreover, I believe that corporal punishment should always be used as a last resort, not for a minor infraction such as talking in class. I was a good student who was usually pretty well-behaved. I did not deserve to get a “whaling” on that day thirty years ago. Indeed, after that incident, I lost a lot of respect for Mr. A, who had once been among my favorite teachers.
I think that corporal punishment might have its place in some situations, but it shouldn’t be up to an educator to use it on a student. In fact, I think educators should be the ones who come up with more enlightened ways to maintain order and discipline in their classrooms.