Paddling in School: Yes or No

The first issue I’m asking you to address concerns a bill that is now in the U.S. Congress. It’s the “paddling in school” bill, sponsored by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who introduced the “Ending Corporal Punishment in School Act,” H.R. 5628.

I hated getting spanked as a child. But I never got a spanking at school. The fear put into me by my parents at home meant that never, ever would I get into trouble while at school. But not all students are raised by their parents to follow the rules, to understand that school is not just about them but is a place for ALL students to learn and that no student has the right to keep other students from doing so. I am opposed to H.R. 5628. Here’s why:

My first reaction to this bill is — are you kidding me? The federal government has the time and resources to tell the states and local districts whether or not they can paddle? Let’s don’t even bring up whether or not Congress has the right, under the U.S.Constitution, to do so. Don’t the feds have enough to do in dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, North Korea, Somalia, immigration, the recession — and the Gulf Coast/BP disaster?

Okay. I get it. Some of you think that it’s okay if the federal government takes on every issue under the sun. So here’s what I — the schoolprincipal — say: Arizona, where I taught and where I was a principal for many years, is all about local control. I can’t disagree with this approach. After all, many problems are best solved at the lowest possible level. So, in Arizona, each local school board normally gets the right to decide these kinds of issues. When my son went through elementary school here, paddling was approved as part of school board policy. Parents did have the right to opt out. The child of a parent who opted out did not get swats. At my school, as I recall, only 1 or 2 parents a year opted out.

About 15 years ago when I became a principal, the AZ Legislature put the kebosh on paddling. This issue was no longer left up to the local districts. I did not agree with this decision. At the time I had 2 brothers, a kindergartner and a 6th grader, who I believed would benefit from paddling. These two boys belonged to the family from you know where. The mother told me that her boys had been raised by the father to become criminals. He himself had served time in prison for drugs, assault, and robbery. These boys had no respect for anyone. The older boy had assaulted the previous principal and knocked down the librarian, both of whom were very nice and caring people. When I insisted upon meeting the father, I offered my hand for him to shake. He made sure to crush it as hard as he could — with a smile on his face. Without a blink, I continued the handshake and after our conversation — where he said all of the right things — I stuck my hand out again and waited for him to crush it to smithereens. He surprised me — because I think he was shocked that I had offered him my hand again — and he left it intact. But nothing changed after the meeting.

There was no way to reason with these boys. Other students and staff members lived in fear of them.There was no need to appeal to their better angels. That had been tried before. If they had any, these angels never showed up at school. After laying down the law several times to no avail, I had no other ammunition. I couldn’t paddle, but I was not going to let these boys run the school. I bought a paddle and had some holes drilled in it. When the next incident occurred with the 5th grader, he came into my office, walking toward me with his usual insolent attitude. I pulled out the paddle and slammed it down flat on my desk. It made quite a sound. He jumped, and his eyes grew larger. I said,”I have tried to work with you. I have tried everything that I know. This paddle is the only thing I have left. Is this what it’s going to take for you to respect the adults here at school and follow the rules?” He indicated immediately that he would comply. And comply he did, albeit sullenly. Of course, he didn’t realize that we were no longer able to paddle. I certainly had not announced it, and I had told my teachers not to share that information with the student body. If he had known the law, my ploy would not have worked. But it did work. Because he didn’t know, I came up with a solution that was a bit out of the box. But it worked. The older boy ran herd with a group of unruly 6th graders who, before I arrived, had run the school. When word spread that I had a paddle, it was amazing how all of these boys began to tow the line. If H.R. 5628 passes, I can predict what will happen once students learn that paddling in schools is no longer legal.

The federal government is too far removed from local issues and local decision-making. If the feds take over this issue, principals will lose the latitude they need to run their schools. Let’s continue allowing the states, along with local school districts and parents, to decide this issue locally, not nationally. The federal government needs to stay out of it.

So, folks, in my first post you know where I stand. Leave whether or not to paddle in school up to the states and local school districts and parents. This is an issue better handled at the local level. Now . . . what do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments. Let the dialogue begin.

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