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Paul Turner: Leave paddling in the dustbin of history

 (Nathanael Massey / The Spokesman-Review)

My wife was at home and happened to be looking out a window one recent afternoon. She observed a minor traffic collision.

The fault in the matter was quite clear. So she wanted to present herself as a witness.

I volunteered to walk outside with a slip of paper listing her name and phone number.

As I approached a cluster of people gathered by the blue vehicle that had gotten run into, I asked who had been driving it.

Though he had not been at fault, one kid sheepishly raised his hand. I suppose he was still shook by what had happened.

I told him my wife saw the accident and gave him the piece of paper.

Everything seemed to be under control. No one was hurt and a woman standing there admitted she was to blame. So I went back in the house.

Told my wife that the innocent party, the kid to whom I gave her contact info, had looked at me like I was a humorless vice principal summoning him to my office o’ doom.

I kind of liked that.

Once upon a time vice principals were in charge of discipline and meted out rough scholastic justice with butt-branding paddles. They tended to be authority figures regarded with a certain wariness by students.

Which brings me, at long last, to my topic. Corporal punishment: Did it work?

Feel free to disagree. But I’ll say no, it didn’t.

Oh, sure. Paddling kids expressed a sort of societal disapproval of certain conduct. It sent the signal that actions have consequences.

But did it serve as a deterrent to subsequent misbehavior? Was it in any way corrective?

Uh, no. At least not from what I witnessed back near the dawn of time.

I don’t think the kids who got paddled actually minded getting spanked all that much. For a moment, they were in the spotlight. For some of them, it might have been about the only time anyone paid much attention to them.

And there’s no denying that getting paddled earned one a certain rebel status. Classmates would sometimes speak of the recipients of corporal punishment in almost awed tones. You know, the hushed way you might refer to individuals who had done hard time. Or were about to.

“Didja hear about Johnny? Dead kid walking.”

Looking back, some of this is funny. Some of it is not.

Certain teachers were not always fair-minded about sentencing children to paddlings. It was all capriciously subjective. Sometimes you could tell when teachers simply did not like a kid.

This was not ideal because at least some of the youthful misbehavior and acting out stemmed from issues perhaps not appropriately addressed with a wooden cudgel.

But things were different back in the day. Schools tended to have a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with children who didn’t toe the line.

Beat some sense into ’em.

OK, a lot of these punishments were not apt to scar anyone for life. And as noted, sometimes getting spanked could be a backside badge of honor for a sixth-grade bad boy.

That doesn’t change the fact a few teachers and administrators had sadistic streaks and approached corporal punishment with an unbecoming zeal.

If you ever saw a classmate lifted off his feet by the upstroke impact of the paddle, you know what I’m talking about. That was abuse, plain and simple. Not everything about the good old days was all that great.

It’s easy to romanticize or get nostalgic about the old law-and-order days of kids getting hauled by the scruff of the neck out into the hall and then whacked on the rump. But when that punishment resembled a 19th-century flogging on the high seas, the lesson learned probably isn’t the one intended.

Of course, it was a different time. Back then parents who learned about a spanking at school were more apt to double down with their own paddling at home than to contact a lawyer.

Moreover, the fact that modern kids are not always perfect probably isn’t attributable to corporal punishment in school fading from the scene.

Personally, I think there’s something in the water. Then and now.

End note

I was comparing notes with a colleague about our matchmaking successes. I told her I had introduced a girl and boy in high school who went on to get married. They later divorced.

“You get half a point for that,” she said.

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