Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Corporal Punishment (600+ words)

How did you feel about corporal punishment when the program started? How do you feel now?

I was vehemently opposed to corporal punishment when I began Teacher Corps last year. I refused to believe that a culture of in-school violence could somehow teach a child that violence was wrong. Surely the “moral high ground” would be best for all involved parties.

I am now strongly against corporal punishment. Which, I suppose, is a lessening of severity – but just barely. On occasion, throughout the year, I found myself wondering about the possible benefits (the swift justice and demeaning embarrassment to the student) of paddling. But, as angry as I ever got – and once or twice I could feel my blood boiling at a few select students (better: at their behavior) – I never struck or really considered striking a student. Not my nature.

It should be noted that I teach in a district that does not allow corporal punishment to be used – not that I haven’t heard stories of coaches paddling disobedient athletes. I really don’t have 350 words to say on this topic. It’s a moot point: hitting kids is wrong; I don’t hit kids. We’ve heard horror stories all year about teachers taking it too far, and we all know stories about violence breading monsters. In fact, if this year has been about one inter-personal skill, it’s been about “killing them with kindnesses.”

Some people enter a meeting ready for an argument, but, more than occasionally, I’ve disarmed those fiery folk with my genuine interest in their point of view and my calmness. I found it best to listen to people (parents, students, crazy librarians) and to hear them out; then, after they’ve spent themselves, I calmly ask them a question – usually of the “what can I do to help you?” variety. Expecting a fight or a confrontation, they have no idea how to respond; then they start feeling bad (embarrassed, really) for losing their temper, and before long we’ve reached an agreement, and I conclude with some motivational words and a joke. When I describe it now, it almost sounds scripted or disingenuous. But really, it’s all honest emotion being productively channeled towards an efficient, mutually desired outcome. (I sound like a businessman: all efficiency and “at the end of the day”-ish. [Well, having given my Classroom Management presentation today, the fact that I run my classroom in an efficient, multi-tasking, activity-heavy manner has not escaped my notice.] As a teacher, I tried my best to skip the bullshit and circumnavigate the nonessential moments. These include staff meetings, meaningless confrontations, and professional development.)

To corporally punish? I promised myself long ago that I wouldn’t resort to violence (having seen a friend snap and destroy an apartment [and its bathroom] in his rage). So I’m good at not “losing my shit in a fit of rage.” This year I promised myself that I wouldn’t let anger fill me with internal rage either. Throughout the year, I could feel myself swallowing anger so as not to flip out on my students. But I then decided to protect my heart from undue stress and drama; probably the most health-conscious decision I made all year. I breathe deep and listen, waiting for my chance to question.

To wrap up this meaningless required entry, what troubles me most about corporal punishment and the culture of fear and violence it enables is the teacher so quick to brag about smacking a child or assisting in a whooping or actively whooping a child. I guess it’s something that I won’t understand until I have kids and am faced with the very real dilemma of whether or not to spank a child who’s deliberately peed on my books.


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