Back on the last Sunday of October, when I was leading the Sunday School lesson for the adult class of our church, the subject was written as the “Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith.” The title may often be rather vague but the lesson was built around the first 13 verses from the 12th chapter of Hebrews in the New Testament. The real subject is “discipline.”
In the New Revised Standard Version of scripture, it is written that, “God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? We had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. They disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
That turned my thoughts to discipline and my experiences with the subject over my lifetime. I have heard some “old” people talk about types of discipline in school that they endured as children. Some recall having to lay their hands on the desk and having their fingers snapped with a ruler while others were locked all alone in the dark coatroom, and some were seated on a stool facing the front corner of the room wearing a “dunce cap” that resembled a big ice cream cone worn upside down.
During my own years in elementary school, after school buses were invented, my bus stop was located in the valley in front of the Curry farm (now Girl Scout’s Camp Curry Creek) and just below the “Arch “ on our road, almost a mile to walk from home. In the afternoon, I walked back up the hill with the Britton kids and occasionally stopped off at their place to play, jump in the hay, etc. – while wearing my good “school clothes.”
On one pleasant fall afternoon, my dad suddenly appeared at the barn door with a switch in his hand – a little stick he’d trimmed from a little tree along the road, or maybe a willow branch from the tree in his front yard. It was embarrassing to be chased home over the hill with the threat of a switch although I doubt that I was even touched by the actual stick. Consequently, I changed my way of life and watched my wristwatch a little closer.
When I was in junior high school, I once received a swat of the paddle from teacher Lee Shaffer in shop class. Of course I was innocent, but got caught up in some sort of activity inspired by some of my other more-guilty classmates. Shop teachers knew how to choose the best wood for a paddle – maybe ash, oak, or maple – carefully designed and formed right in the shop, often with a hole in the center of the business end to add special effects. I don’t think it ever happened to me again.
But, when I began teaching, I discovered that my room came equipped with a paddle of its own and I began to use it whenever it was needed. I perfected the moves to serve the purpose but to also deter similar offenses from others in the room, and for others down the hall as I usually left my door open for the echo down the hall. I had the victim bend over with hands on a desk; then would take hold of the arm to keep them from shifting position; and then apply one swift snap with the paddle which usually sounded something like a gunshot (unless the victim was wearing corduroy pants).
Forty-some years later, when I meet one of those young men, now almost old men, they will say, “Boy, I remember the time I got paddled in your class – and I really deserved it!” It almost sounds now like a rite of passage or bragging. I can’t tell now if it really happened to them, or if it is some memory that they have created from wishful thinking. Sometime during my teaching career, the school district put an end to “corporal punishment” and recalled all the paddles (except my good, old faithful that remained hidden in the cupboard when I turned in a cheap substitute. The original still hangs un-used over my workbench at home today.)
I never used the paddle for any reasons beyond misbehavior due to nibbing around or bullying, although we didn’t know what that was called years ago. After paddles were outlawed, suspension became the main threat for misbehavior. I seldom packed anyone off to the office for what they said or did because I considered the reason to be something personal in their life, not something that I had caused or was personal to me. Listening to their concerns and showing respect for the students often paid bigger dividends in the classroom.
Years ago when we were taking care of as many as six of our grandchildren at our house while their parents were working, we discovered a way of ending mini-fights among the kids. Evelyn would pick up our new video camera and prepare to record the action which would end immediately. Few kids would want their tantrums and fights recorded for their parents and other people to see. I adapted the idea to the classroom by setting out an audio tape recorder on my desk and pushing the “start” button. That usually stopped loud talking and/or misbehavior.
Bus drivers have always had discipline problems as well. Years ago, the driver would just stop and put an unruly older student off the bus right then and there, and the student had to find his own way home and then report to the principal the next day to apologize or continue to find his own way to school until he did. That can’t happen today and the installation of a camera in the bus is supposed to help with behavior problems. At least they provide a record to bring about punishment.
In later years of my teaching, I invented a system of “Clipboard plus and minus” records that I used when assigning grades at the end of the quarter. When I meet people of that generation, they often bring up that subject, and some have actually adapted a similar clip-board idea in dealing with their own children at their homes. The word discipline means “to teach” and the goal has always been to provide a method to teach people to become better students then and citizens in later life.
The biblical lesson from Hebrews has often been interpreted to mean, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” In today’s world, there are many different kinds of rods. We read of “physical rods” that are sometimes carried far to the extreme; and there are “mental rods” that don’t go far enough. Our goal must be to find just the right rods to really “make America Great Again” for our children to be good citizens on the playground, in the school room, on the school bus, and in the whole community.