During my lunch break on a recent day of substitute teaching for a high school, I was a silent third party to a conversation in the teachers' lounge between two instructors who were discussing what they would do should they ever be put in a situation where their physical safety was put in danger by one of the students.
The conversation, by a black man and a woman, both in their 40s, was simultaneously entertaining and worrisome: it involved teenagers potentially getting thrown across rooms, chin-checked and so forth. It's not so much their descriptions of what they'd do if ever hit by a student that irked me - self-defense is just that - but that these grown-ups were placed in situations by young people within school walls that could have potentially escalated to violence reminds me how far our young people continue to fall.
The concept of ever striking a teacher, and Lord knows I've wanted to, was such a foreign concept to me when I was a student that it was like jumping off the ground in flight - a very cool idea, but something I know I'll never do. And even the worst-behaved of my classroom contemporaries drew the line when it came to getting in a teacher's grill: 13 years in Detroit Public Schools and I never once saw anything close to what these teachers described they'd experienced.
The conversation got me thinking about corporal punishment, its effectiveness and whether or not it's something that's actually missing from today's child-rearing culture.
As an inner-city Chicago substitute teacher in pursuit of becoming a full-time, certified educator, I can personally attest to the gall and level of disrespect that many of these crumbsnatchers bring to the table. I've been sworn at and been on the receiving end of intense attitudes from students of both sexes and all ages.
Whenever I reach a level of disbelief at the behavior I experience, I have to remind myself that these children are under the influence of parents who are my age or not much older that must've forgotten how our parents did things. Or they simply don't care. For a child without any special mental or emotional limitations to reach 14 years of age and think it's perfectly okay to curse out a teacher is most often an indicator that someone in their charge is doing them a complete disservice.
I believe that preventing such behavior can be as simple as a parent tagging their kids' behind every now and again.
I'm not a proponent of every old-school way of doing things by any means, but I think there's something to be said about corporal punishment: fear of an a*s-whippin' was a motivator for me to keep in line (for the most part), and I think there's something about the potential of stinging hot, red buttcheeks that sitting in the corner in time-out for a few minutes simply won't drive home.
In the interest of full disclosure, I've waffled a bit on this issue throughout the years. I wrote a column for my college newspaper nine years ago firmly in defense of the a*s-whippin'. But I started reading and listening to the child-rearing "experts" who say that, if anything, spankings have a detrimental effect on children. Then I started thinking about how unfair it is, in theory, to exert physical dominance over another living creature for the means of causing pain...
…and then I started teaching.
Ever since reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers", I now question the child psychologist and book-writers who all have disparate things to say about how to raise children, and I think the claims that butt-whipping has warped whole generations of children (who, I might add, seemed more well-adjusted as a whole than the current generation) are dubious at best.
I got my behind tagged by both of my parents when I was coming up. My father was the reactive one, coming full-tilt with the belt when s**t got thick. But my mother, it's worth mentioning, was the menacing one…putting the fear of God in me and my sister to the point where we behaved so as not to incur her wrath by way of cleated Indian moccasin.
That "fear" was more of a parental respect, and I think that's what today's youth are sorely missing.
I also think that abolishing corporal punishment in schools, while understandable in a sense, might have something to do with the waning student-teacher respect levels. I came up at the tail-end of the "Board of Education" era, when a student's motivation to behave stemmed from not wanting to get dragged to the front of the classroom and whacked by the aforementioned board in front of his classmates. Parents got soft, legal action was threatened, and now I doubt a nun at a school in the Bible Belt could even get away with whacking a student on the hand with a ruler anymore.
In a perfect world, all children would respond to punishment that doesn't require violence, and many do. As much as I hated a*s-whippings, I responded even more to getting privileges taken away. I'd love to never have to raise my hand at my future children because the fear alone of not being able to watch season 32 of "American Idol" scared them straight.
As it stands, I am in favor of spankings to get a young kid in line while fully recognizing that there are many lines not to cross in the process. There is a line between spanking and beating/abuse that most well-adjusted people should be able to grasp. In addition, I don't believe in using foreign objects to strike a child: As innocuous as was the process of getting a "switch" off the tree for my babysitter to whack me with, the less-cowardly approach to corporal discipline is for the parent to actually feel what they are doing to their child.
As long as an overall apathy regarding discipline continues to plague this generation of parents, it'll only be worse for future ones. When newborns start falling out of their mothers throwin' them thangs at their doctors, don't say I didn't warn you.