Scott Lax, author, teacher
I read recently that school paddling is still legal in 17 districts in Ohio, including a number of northeast Ohio school districts. This got me thinking back to my paddling years.
When I was a teenager, things were different. People drove giant cars that used a lot of gasoline. A Democratic president frequently fibbed to the public about an undeclared and seemingly endless war. And when students, especially boys, misbehaved in most public schools, they got paddled.
Things have really changed. Today that president is Republican, the gas-chuggers are SUVs, and when students, mostly boys, misbehave in some public schools, they get paddled.
I'm an expert on that last one. Why? Because my heinie was often redder than Bill Clinton's nose.
I got paddled for laughing in history class, walking through the halls when I was supposed to be outside at recess, and yakking when I should have been drilling in shop class. ("Thank you sir, may I have another!" was a funny line in Animal House, but somehow didn't seem funny in real life.)
My most memorable paddler was Mr. H, a diminutive English teacher with an otherwise mild bearing. Mr. H had a small but extremely effective instrument of enforcement, a paddle with holes drilled in it to better cut through wind resistance and give his stroke more oomph. I got paddled by Mr. H once, when I dropped a nickel and went to pick it up.
"Sit down, Mr. Lax," said Mr. H. I kept walking. A nickel was a lot of dough.
"I said, sit down, Lax."
I bent down to pick up the rolling Thomas Jefferson, which was my first mistake: Never show the opponent his target. It's too tempting.
Mr. H marched me up to the front of the class. I bent over, this time with my rear facing the room.
Whap! Whap! Whap! Tears sprang to my eyes. Humiliation momentarily masked the developing welts that would keep me wincing for two weeks.
I've been trying to remember how many times I got paddled, but I can't even remember all the teachers who paddled me over my illustrious school career, much less the number of whippings.
So what did I learn from all this?
I learned that paddling is a very bad idea. I learned that some adults – not my parents, thank God – believed that violence could solve life-threatening behavior issues like talking in class. I learned what it feels like to be bullied by people in authority. I learned to seriously dislike those teachers – at least for the time I was in school – rather than respect them.
I was fortunate in that I had outlets for my anger. I played drums (okay, I beat them); I wrote for a newspaper (granted, it was underground); I rejected social norms (by becoming a Buddhist); and I wrote some fiction. "The Coke Machine," my first story, was a dark satire about a kid who gets beaten for getting an unauthorized cola in the teachers' lounge. He ends up dying of internal injuries.
I'm not sure how fortunate those kids are in the 17 paddling districts in Ohio. They may choose paddling over detention, but it's the wrong choice, because with every whack, they're getting the wrong message. They're being told that violence is an answer to things that can be solved without violence. They're learning that adults are so inept they can't figure out ways to deal with troublemakers, from the overly chatty and mobile ones (like I was) to the truly dangerous, like the students who injured art teacher Laura Frick as she attempted to break up a fight at Fulton School in Cleveland this January.
Those students, or any students who beat teachers or other students, should be dealt with harshly and swiftly, be it through suspensions, special schooling or the courts. Violence should never be accepted in schools, including hitting children with wooden clubs.
The good news is that there is a bill about to come up in the Ohio legislature that would ban this medieval form of discipline once and for all. But those legislators shouldn't listen to me. They should listen to a real expert: a real-life, nine-year-old boy named Angus, who is an excellent student in all ways.
"How would you feel if you were paddled in school for talking in class?" I asked Angus, who knew nothing of my paddle-ridden past.
"I'd be embarrassed. Lots of pain," he answered.
"Would you behave better?" I asked.
Angus' answer was as swift and sure as Mr. H's holy paddle.
"No," said Angus.
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Jack Conrath, teacher
Madame Chair and Committee members,
My name is Jack Conrath. I am currently teaching education courses for the Ohio State University and Viterbo University in Wisconsin. I retired from Ohio public schools having served as a teacher, coach, guidance counselor and administrator. I am now best known by elementary students as "Dr. Jack"...the guy who brings his banjo and teaches about rocks, minerals and fossils. Matter of fact that's what I was doing in a third grade classroom this morning.
I would appreciate the opportunity to relate three experiences. First, what it is like to use the board (I guess they call it paddling today) on students. Second, what it is like to be superintendent of Whitehall City Schools and ban paddling. Third, effectively maintaining discipline in school.
Using the board. While growing up in the 40's and 50's and beginning teaching in the early 60's, I witnessed or was the recipient of and participated in the following attempts to control students. A ruler or hairbrush across the knuckles; pulling hair; hitting on the head with a book; throwing books, erasers and chalk; grabbing students by the ear and dragging them down to the office and standing for an hour with your nose pressed against the chalkboard. This is what new teachers witnessed watching experienced teachers and so we did it as well. Today, schools wouldn't think of allowing any of this and yet a few districts continue to permit a more brutal physical punishment against students...using the board or as we call it today, paddling.
As a beginning science teacher and coach in 1963 I was shown (didn't need showing...I had already experienced it as a student)...the student bends over, grabs the desk, clenches their teeth(keep their tongue back so they don't bite it off)...now, hit the student as hard as you can....lift them off the floor if you can...once twice or three times....it's best if you can make them cry. Were students lifted off the floor...yes...did hard-nosed high school boys cry...yes...were girls paddled...yes...was the "crack" heard throughout the school...yes...was I glad and did I benefit from being paddled and that I paddled students....I'm here to tell you NO!
How can we NOT tolerate the attempts to control I mentioned and yet tolerate the most brutal physical control, paddling. I have not witnessed any of the 453 paddlings that were administered in Ohio last year but...do I believe that some were as I described...absolutely. As an aside, I have spoken with some of the administrators in these remaining districts...they are praying that Ohio completes the ban. They may not tell you that in public but they will certainly tell you that in private.
Banning paddling. I took my first superintendency in 1971 and the paddlings continued. Ten years later I met a parent whose daughter had been unnecessarily and egregiously paddled. It was an awakening for me. I began to rethink using physical pain against students and, started looking at alternatives. As part of this process, I joined other educators in presenting workshops with alternatives to physical punishment. When I arrived in Whitehall as superintendent in 1989, a parent approached me about what he believed to be the excessive use of physical punishment in public schools.
We thought about the possibility of a ban against corporal punishment. We thought it was a pipedream, but then we talked with teachers, parents, board members and community leaders and found there was a great deal of support for a ban. Through the leadership of the teacher's union, the PTA, the board, the mayor as well as the help of CED and other such groups, the ban was enacted in the Whitehall City Schools without the first ripple with two board members(retired teachers) leading. Representatives Mason and Miller and Governor Voinovich each visited Whitehall City Schools, some on numerous occasions and gave us support. Several years after that this very legislature brought a group of us to these very chambers to recognize the Whitehall City schools for increasing the graduation rate from 56 to 75 percent and increasing student achievement. I believe eliminating violence against students was the first step in getting us to this recognition.
Maintaining discipline. Finally, what do you have to do to maintain disciple without the use of the paddle.
It became apparent to me that the Whitehall community had two things going for it in being on the front line in banning corporal punishment in Ohio. First, it understood the value of pride, in yourself and in your community. There was a strong belief that pride in yourself was a prized possession. Mayor John Bishop carried that banner as have others who followed him. The second was a practice of the virtue, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With these two beliefs already strongly in place, a few simple management strategies were all that were needed. I remind teachers and parents of these strategies in hundreds of workshops in the Midwest...they are very simple but not necessarily easy to do.
Have your rules and procedures very, very clear. When parents, teachers and/or students complained to me about discipline in my 25 years as a school administrator, most often, this was the problem.
Make sure your consequences are clear and appropriate. Many times negative behavior can be corrected by training rather than punishment. Many times positive behavior is not reinforced and it needs to be, and sometimes the consequence does not and will never work with a particular student so try something else. Don't keep doing the same thing over and over.
Finally, be consistent...this may, in fact be the most difficult strategy to follow. Sometimes being consistent inconveniences us as parents or teachers more than it does the child but consistency is critical in developing discipline. We say please and thank you regularly when the training is consistent to say please and thank you regularly.
There are well over 60 million public pre-K through 12th grade students in this country. Not every strategy works for every student and so a good dose of common sense comes in real handy. There is nothing in my common sense that supports "laying the board" to a student.
I commend the legislature's leadership in bringing Ohio to this point from almost 68,000 students paddled yearly in the early 1980's to 270 this year. Let's finish the job and be done with it. -