Like everything else in education, disciplinary methods are always changing. When I first started teaching, corporal punishment was very much a rule of thumb. In fact, in my interview with the gentleman who would later become my principal, I was asked about my view on corporal punishment. Like any new teacher just out of college, I gave a verbose description of my well-rehearsed discipline plan. I rebutted the concept of corporal punishment labeling it archaic and unproductive, and talked instead of making the punishment match the crime to make sure that better habits would develop over time. My soon-to-be-principal proceeded to inform me that he was a firm believer in the use of the paddle and so were the teachers in his building. I remember leaving that interview both disillusioned and convinced that I would never hear back about that teaching position.
To my surprise, not only was I offered a teaching position (I am convinced it was more because I said I would be willing to take a coaching job than any great impression I made in the interview) but before long, I found myself buying into the corporal punishment frenzy. And it was a frenzy! I taught in a middle school at that time, and discipline was always a huge issue. Many of the male teachers had honed their paddling skills to such a degree that they volunteered their services to those of us who were too squeamish to do the deed ourselves. Eventually, corporal punishment became a thing of the past, but I sometimes look at where we are now and think perhaps we went too far in the other direction.
Many parents have become almost militant about teachers denying their child privileges as a disciplinary action. You can take away recess, but heaven forbid you take away a class party, field trip, or fun activity. (Even if their child does not deserve it.) I believe it is a reflection of our society that work needs to be fun and, rather than striving for those intrinsic rewards, it is rapidly becoming more about the extrinsic rewards. Why do schools feel they have to buy into this philosophy? I think it is because the fear of parent advocates and lawyers coming into the schools has become a reality.
Suddenly, our school system has gone soft. And the irony is that ours was once a school system which actively utilized an extremely harsh form of punishment on a regular basis. Now I would never want to go back to the days of corporal punishment, but is there no middle ground between that and the so-often-too-soft-to-be-effective forms of discipline we see in schools today? Let’s send the firm message that you earn what you work for; you don’t get it just because your parents will make a big enough stink!