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Spartanburg Herald Journal, South Carolina, 18 January 2011
Spartanburg Sheriff Wright says teachers should be free to use corporal punishment
Luncheon talk turns to youth discipline, breakdown of family
By Jason Spencer
Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said Monday he thinks teachers should be allowed to use corporal punishment in schools, and that in some cases school resource officers already fill the roles once considered a parent's responsibility. He also complained that "it's way too easy" for frustrated couples to get divorces.
Wright, speaking to a Republican club at Wade's Restaurant, recalled vividly his seventh-grade science teacher who would "sting me real good with the paddle" when he did things he shouldn't -- or recognize him in front of the class when he did a good job.
When asked afterward whether he supported corporal punishment in school, he said he did, but not in high school.
"I had it when I was in school. And I had respect for the teachers that would paddle me," Wright said. "It made me better."
Discussion in the audience touched on teachers' loss of autonomy when it comes to discipline and the breakdown of the American family.
Wright and Dr. Howard Bean, a behavioral specialist with the Mary Black Health System, were asked to speak on mental illness in schools and society following a shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and injured 13 -- including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head. The accused gunman is 22-year-old Jared Loughner.
"I used to have a little devil in me," Wright said. "My daddy beat it right out of me."
Wright later said that his father "disciplined" him, differentiating the act from a "beating." He said in some cases parents do go too far and cause serious injuries to children, which is when law enforcement gets involved.
Wright talked about the rise in single-parent homes -- noting that when he was young, if he stayed by himself, he had a list of chores to complete or face consequences. He also talked about the increase in gang activity and recreational drug use.
"These kids are looking for acceptance," Wright said. "Some are just mean ... and we need to deal with them. But I see a lot of anger issues, and some of them have only one parent at home -- if one at all. A lot of this is a family issue."
Now, Wright said, school resource officers will go to a child's function to "be the guy who pats you on the head and says, 'Good job, son.'" Wright said such officers had helped avert several "situations," but did not elaborate.
People in the crowd asked several questions about how to prevent tragedies like the one in Tucson or get people help early before they become dangerous -- showing, perhaps, just how hard it still is for many to digest what happened in Arizona.
Bean, with Mary Black, said, "Instead of who's smarter than a fifth-grader, how about who can help a first-grader?"
When asked afterward specifically about corporal punishment, Bean said people should take a common-sense approach to discipline, but those who go overboard need to be held accountable.
Bean cited several cases he has dealt with in Spartanburg, naming children by their first name only. He said a good teacher often can pick a "different" child out of a class on their first day.
"I can't count the times over the years where a child who's having school difficulty ... says, 'The teachers all hate me. They're all against me.' And you know, that's just an excuse. They want to blame someone else."
Bean spoke about a 6-year-old who was so obsessed with knives that his single mother would lock her bedroom door at night before going to sleep; a 9-year-old boy who talked constantly about death -- of people, animals and himself; a 7-year-old whose obsession with matches led to him setting the yard on fire before his parents got him help; a white teenager who, with accomplices, beat a black teenager who objected to the former's Confederate flag jacket; about a 16-year-old boy who started hanging out with different friends, wearing new clothes and was out at all hours of the night.
Before he left home for good, the 16-year-old told his parents, "I really don't expect to have a long life."
"We have a firecracker in every school in this county, and probably every school in this country," Bean said.
Such children are often loners, he said. To help, people should try to get them involved in activities with other people, work with their families and connect them with mentors, he said.
"Kids will still be kids, but the boundaries have changed -- what's allowable, what they could get away with," Bean said.
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