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The Odessa American, Texas, 20 October 1968
Paddle Passes As Traditional School Disciplinary Measure
By Gayle Noll
The ol' hickory stick is losing its sting.
It's just not in the "swing of things" anymore.
Teachers still can and do paddle -- but not very often.
The days when a teacher gave "a bad boy a good lickin''' are almost gone forever.
Psychological counseling and forms of more formal discipline are fast replacing the teacher's paddle.
No longer does the mention of the school paddle -- jokingly referred to as the "Board of Education" -- send fear through a mischievous student.
There was a time when a school paddle was covered with the names of its young victims. And there still are a few veteran teachers who have such souvenir paddles.
ALLOWING A spanked student to carve or write his name on the paddle was supposed to somehow ease the pain of the punishment.
And there are officials in the local school system who can remember some amusing experiences from "the old days."
One local principal recalls when he first came to Odessa in the early 1940s that spanking was the end result of a student's misbehavior.
One of his paddlings turned out to be quite a heated affair.
"One time there was a long, tall kid who got disrespectful with one of the women teachers," recalls the principal.
"And I brought him down to the office for a paddling. Well, he had a bunch of kitchen matches and a comb in his hip pocket. And when I brought down the paddle, the matches struck and literally set the poor boy on fire."
"I grabbed my top coat and put out the fire," laughs the principal, "and that boy later turned out to be one of the best friends I ever had. But I learned to always have the kids empty their pockets before I paddled them."
But paddling no longer allows room for joking.
AND IF A student is paddled, the formality of the process is quite a contrast to the days of the ol' hickory stick.
When a student is paddled in school today, he first is very formally told of his "sentence" for his crime. Then the person who's doing the paddling -- and this varies from school to school is present.
Next, the victim is told to bend over and grasp a chair or his legs. Then the paddling finally takes place.
But there rarely are more than three licks, and knows of no one who gives more than four.
"Students may get 'whippings' at home, but they get 'paddlings' or 'swats' at school," emphasizes A.G. McDonald, Permian High School principal.
Holm says the "belt lines" students had to run through, and student paddling committees no longer exist in any large West Texas schools.
The physical forms of punishment have all but vanished.
And so have all but a few paddles -- and their use is strictly regulated.
* * *
AT LEAST THAT'S the situation in Ector County Public Schools.
Corporal punishment -- the formal term now for paddling -- is used only "as a last resort," note local school officials.
"It's true we don't have the incidence of paddling like we used to," says Holm.
McDonald explained that he encourages his teachers "not to paddle," and that it's rare when a student is spanked at Permian.
However, he admits that some boys -- he says high school girls aren't ever paddled -- do choose to take "a lick instead of staying in detention hall."
But McDonald doesn't classify one lick with a paddle as "a paddling."
Rather than the hickory stick, educators today say they favor counseling with a student and making him stay after school to study in detention hall.
Holm says less than three per cent of students "get into serious trouble."
And to get a paddling at school, a student has to be in serious trouble.
In a policy spelled out by local school trustees, teachers are allowed to paddle a student if a representative of the principal is present.
* * *
IN THE LOCAL school system, women teachers in high schools don't ever wield a paddle, and rarely do in junior highs, according to Holm.
But if a girl student is paddled, a woman is always the one swinging the stick.
And beyond the junior high level, there are few spankings at school.
"Past the junior high level, paddling is usually ineffective," asserts Holm, "because if a student hasn't learned by then he must have self-discipline, it's almost too late.
McDonald says rather than try to spank a student who has committed a serious offense and fails to reform, he probably would suspend the student from school.
"Paddling doesn't eliminate the cause of the problem in most cases," relates Holm, a veteran educator who served as a school counselor several years. "If a child has trouble, a teacher must look for the causes and work toward eliminating the problem."
Holm notes that in most instances when a student is spanked, he is given a choice of discipline. For instance, the offender usually has the option of choosing an alternate form of punishment.
But Holm says sometimes the student prefers the paddling to the alternative, such as giving up a few hours of his time in detention hall.
* * *
"IT'S NEVER a pleasant thing to paddle a student," asserts Holm. "Believe me, the person doing it doesn't enjoy it."
Both Holm and McDonald emphasize that very few students who make good grades, participate in extra-curricular activities and "have good self images," ever get into trouble.'
When told their son or daughter has been paddled at school, parents usually "are embarrassed," comments Holm. "They want their kids to do right, and usually appreciate the school helping discipline their children," he notes.
"But there must be a high degree of integrity maintained in disciplining a child -- we can't play games with this," Holm asserts.
McDonald, an educator for 30 years, says one reason he has grown to disfavor paddling is because "unless we remove the cause of the infraction, the punishment doesn't solve anything. And paddling doesn't usually solve the problem."
The Permian principal believes that after age 12 or 13, paddling is virtually ineffective.
Then when does a student deserve a paddling?
"When there is a repetition of an offense, and paddling is necessary to get the student's attention," ventures Holm.
* * *
"TO ME, it's a desperation thing," says McDonald. "It means the student has failed to respond to anything else."
Holm explains that under state law, school officials are allowed to spank students. But they are careful to take precautions to have witnesses who can confirm the student wasn't physically injured.
In the 1930s, McDonald admits that his attitude toward paddling was different than it is now.
"But I've learned that force alone never solves a problem," says the principal.
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