This is my 19th year in education. This will also be my 19th year of teaching Tom Sawyer. One part of this classic that always gets the students’ attention is when Tom arrives late at school…again. After admitting that he had been lollygagging with Huck Finn, the teacher proceeds to give him a beating with a switch, not the last time that happens to Tom in the book.
A number of years ago, my in-laws gave me a list of rules from a schoolhouse in the 1840s, about the same time frame as the novel’s setting. The rules include how many lashes one would get for each offense. Out of curiosity, I read off the list, and the kids figure out how many lashes they might have gotten in a typical day; some end up over 100!
These same kids admit that knowledge of such a punishment would probably keep them from doing many of those actions, at least most of the time. In fact, I had a student many years ago who shared that, as a junior in the Texas school system, he was spanked for being tardy too many times. There was a dean of students who had a paddle, and this man was in charge of all punishment. The student said it wasn’t so much the pain as the humiliation that kept him from ever being tardy again.
Many of my readers were probably spanked as children; I was on the occasion that I did something really bad. I know that kept the thought of repeating that action out of my head for a good long time. I don’t bear any emotional scars; I think my parents did a fine job of raising us kids. They were stern, but caring. I knew if I got a spanking or my mouth washed out with soap that I had done something very out of hand.
Even my teachers used some of that. Our first grade teacher used a fly swatter as a mini-paddle on naughty kids; my fourth grade teacher had a bar of Ivory soap in her desk when needed.
But times have changed, especially as shown by the actions of Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and the reaction to his punishment of his son. If you’ve paid even a scant amount of attention, you know that Peterson has admitted to using a switch on his four-year-old son, leaving contusions and bleeding on the child. He faces charges in Texas and, as of this writing, looks to be done as a Viking.
I’m sad about this, not just as a Vikings fan, but as a father. I’ve argued for years that a quick swat to gain your child’s attention when that child needs disciplining, using an open palm, is okay. I’ve even sometimes wished for the return of corporal punishment in schools, similar to what my former star went through in Texas. Kids today look at you with a “What are you going to do about it?” attitude at times because they know they have nothing to fear.
But it’s a slippery slope in today’s society. What is acceptable and what is going too far? In schools that employ this type of punishment, there is usually an administrator in charge of it so emotion does not play a role. Spanking a child while upset is what often leads to the extremes which Peterson allegedly used on his son.
Peterson has said, and I’ve seen many others say, that’s how he was raised. “It worked for me,” seems to be a refrain, and I can concur from my vantage point. However, how many people were spanked by parents who may have taken it too far? How many people today still have emotional issues because of it?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. I know the topic is in the forefront again because of an NFL star being involved. I also know our discussion when we read Tom Sawyer might be very interesting this year!
I want to wish a very happy birthday to my daughter, Jayna! I meant to write a column about becoming the parent of a teenager this week, but the AP news seemed worthy as a topic, so I’ll save that bit for next week…if I’ve survived my first week in that regard!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is loblolly, which means a mire or mudhole, as in, “The Vikings found themselves in a metaphorical loblolly, trying to deal with the Adrian Peterson fiasco.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!