Meanness Only Begets More Meanness

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

I often hear people my age or older pining for the days of physical punishment for children and teens. They point out that young people don’t seem to behave as well as they did when parents and teachers used a paddle to punish infractions. They seem to believe that if we brought back a tiny bit of pain for childhood misbehavior, we might live in a much more peaceful world. 

Before I comment on this idea, I have to give a full disclosure about my own childhood upbringing. I only got one spanking from my father for something that absolutely merited a wake up call. It was more like a swat with his hand on my backside that didn’t even leave a mark on my skin. He lost his temper with me because I had done a tap dance with tap shoes on his new Pontiac while singing The Eyes of Texas, a mortal sin for the children of die hard Aggies from Texas A&M like he was. 

Daddy had provided me with an opportunity to simply comply with his request to get down from the hood of the car and stop singing the song that irritated him. If I had obeyed I don’t think he would have even yelled at me. Instead I giggled, gave him a daring look and kept dancing and singing. At that point he lifted me off of my stage, turned me upside down and popped his hand against the padding of my buttocks a couple of times. I was in complete control of my faculties and understood what I had done, so I did not hold it against him for responding in such and uncharacteristic way.

That was it, my one and only spanking and I grew up to be a rather considerate and law abiding citizen. The same goes for my brothers neither of whom ever got spanked. Both of my parents seemed to believe in the value of long talks and incredible role modeling to help us to become good citizens in this world.

I suppose that my own experience has led me to have extremely negative thoughts about corporal punishment. I have never wanted to redirect either the behavior of my children or my students by hitting them. Sadly in the early years of my teaching career the paddle was still alive and well in schools and I either had to witness the whack of a board on a child’s backside or sometimes do the deed myself.

I was terrible at hitting a student. I merely went through the motions as demanded by my superiors. I don’t know how the kids kept from laughing out loud because I barely touched them and sometimes even missed on purpose. My inability to beat kids did not seem to result in a classroom overrun by barbarians, but instead endeared me to my students who seemed to realize how much I despised physical classroom management. They tried hard not to put me into the unenviable position of being told to bring someone to the office for a trial and punishment all rolled up in one. 

When it finally became illegal to use corporal punishment in schools I was ecstatic. I found that the students did not overrun the school once it was gone. Instead I learned that the most effective way to gain the respect and cooperation of my pupils was to first show them how much I respected and cared for them. I was honest with them about why I demanded certain things and we openly talked about the need to work together in a group with so many different personalities. It worked.

That is not say that there was never any mischief. I had to correct the chatty students who seemed unable to be quiet. I had a few spitballs and staples whiz past me. There were a precious few who refused to do homework. Once in a blue moon something was stolen from the classroom. When I got frustrated I referred a handful of students for detention, but mostly I saved that for the most serious infractions. 

Many of my students were already being either physically or emotionally abused at home, so they were unfazed by meanness. They had already developed tough skin and lots of anger. They responded to my encouragement and belief in them. They often noted that I was strict in my demands but quite fair in consequences for breaking the rules. They seemed to all know that I loved them and they reacted in kind. 

I find that there is already too much violence in the world. Too many people answer their frustrations with anger, guns and even war. I can’t imagine the value of returning to a time when teachers were allowed to strike their students on the knuckles with a ruler or lift them off of the ground with a paddle. My parents did not find the need to correct our behaviors with switches or belts or even blows with their hands. It probably took more time and effort to model integrity, kindness, compassion, truth but it was a powerful way of teaching me and my brothers. 

I not only do not want to return to the days of adults hitting their children, I don’t even know how to do those things. We can’t allow our youngsters to grow up without rules and ethics, but we don’t have to hurt them to instill character. Meanness only begets more meanness. I’m so glad my parents knew this and most of all I am happy that nobody is allowed to physically hurt someone else’s child at school. We’ve moved forward and should not look back.