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Video clips: USA

In the principal's office: Steve Halter with his paddle

With comments by C. Farrell

2008: "Fly-on-the-wall" TV documentary reports from a paddling school in Arkansas

These are three excerpts from a TV documentary series (August 2008) called The Principal's Office. The series looks at the lives and work of 30 school principals in different parts of the USA.

    These extracts focus on two students who receive corporal punishment, a boy and a girl.

Nancy chooses a spanking in the principal's office    At Booneville High School in Arkansas, principal Steve Halter routinely deals with students who break the rules by committing them to Saturday School. This involves being detained half the day or all day on Saturday, depending on the seriousness of the offense.

    However, as is common in some parts of the South, he gives them the choice of taking three paddle licks instead of half a day's Saturday School. Both forms of punishment are provided for in the school district's written policies.

    In the first clip (4 mins 55 secs), Nancy ("Miss Booneville 2008") is summoned to the principal's office for repeated failure to arrive at school on time. Her tardiness has been so chronic that she must serve a whole day of Saturday detention, but she can get out of half of it by opting for three licks. After asking to inspect the paddle, which is evidently new to her, she hesitantly opts to take the paddling because she needs the time on Saturday. She will still have to attend for half a day's detention on Saturday as well. The paddling will be on the Friday.

    Friday comes round, and Nancy is one of about half a dozen miscreants assembling in the principal's office. In principle they are all due for Saturday school the following day. Those who choose that option are then free to leave the room, leaving three or four students who wish to be dealt with by corporal punishment. They can always change their minds up to this last moment. They are asked to wait outside the office and then invited in one by one to be punished. Nancy goes in and we can hear the three swats on the seat of her jeans. She soon emerges again, smiling, from the office. It does not seem to have been too bad an ordeal.

A spanking in the principal's office: Shorty takes his licks like a man    In the second excerpt (4 minutes 0 seconds), we see a boy aged perhaps 16, named "Shorty", in the principal's office, also for repeated tardiness to school (late six times). He likewise is told that this means attending Saturday school, unless he would prefer to take a paddling instead.

    Shorty decides to opt to be spanked, since he too has other things he needs to do on Saturday morning. But he still has until Friday to change his mind. Interviewed outside the office, he tells the camera that he thinks the licks are going to hurt, because principal Steve is a big man.

    In the third clip (2 minutes 55 seconds), on Friday, we see Shorty going into the office. As with Nancy, the camera doesn't follow him in, presumably because that would contravene the district rules requiring privacy. But once again we can hear what happens inside the room. The principal asks the boy to bend over the chair with his hands flat on the chair seat. Three swift whacks are then heard landing across his backside, each followed instantly by a gasp of pain. It sounds harder than Nancy's paddling. This would be consistent with some anecdotal evidence that American schoolboys tend to get punished more severely than girls.

    Shorty is then seen leaving the office. Later he is interviewed again for the camera. He says he didn't cry because "crying is for babies" and, if one is going to opt for the swats, one has to take them like a man, or words to that effect. These remarks give the impression that he did find the punishment hard and painful, an observation already made by another male student in the first clip.

    In this particular group of miscreants, Nancy was the only girl to choose a paddling. Conversely, the subgroup who opted for Saturday school and not CP included some boys as well as girls. This runs a bit counter to the popular cultural stereotype whereby teenage boys given this choice are supposed almost invariably to opt for the paddle, and to regard "not taking your licks" as "only for wimps".

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IMPORTANT: Copyright in this video material rests with the original copyright holders. These brief excerpts are reproduced under the "fair use" doctrine EXTERNAL LINK: opens in new window for private, non-profit, historical research and education purposes only. They must not be redistributed or republished in any commercial context.

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Page updated November 2008