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The Miami Herald, Florida, 14 June 1993
Walton County Spares Neither Rod Nor Child
Paddling Rate Is Highest In The State
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. -- For the school-aged buttocks of Walton County, the summer vacation serves as a welcome cooling-off period. This is the time of the year when the wooden paddles are put away.
Walton County paddles more children, percentage-wise, than any other school district in the state. Corporal punishment may be seen as old-fashioned and outmoded in other school districts. Not here.
In this rolling, rural corner of the Florida Panhandle, administrators will tell you frankly that the rod is not spared, nor the child spoiled. Raised on the Bible, children here are no strangers to the worn, carved, wooden slat that "biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder" (Proverbs 23:32). Their hardy temper, forged by discipline grave and stern, has made them the state champions of stoicism.
"Yessir, I paddle them from kindergarten through 12th grade," said Steve Alford, the burly physical education teacher who handles most paddlings at Paxton, a small school built in the 1930s two miles from the Alabama border.
"The little ones, I put them on my knee and hug 'em up afterward, and if they are crying, it makes me want to cry too," Alford continued. "But children need discipline. My mother and my father used both board and belt on me when I was little, and they loved me. That's the key to it. They've got to know you love them."
When the statistics were toted up for the 1991-92 school year, Walton County paddywhacked every other school district in Florida, coming in first with 1,505 paddlings administered to a student body 4,620 strong. Statistically, 32.6 percent of the entire school enrollment had gotten "licks," as they are called hereabouts. In one institution, the Walton Middle School, the figure was 50.65 percent. By contrast, the statewide figure is just 1.3 percent. Paddling has been banned altogether in South Florida.
"Lord! It looks as though they've paddled just about every kid they've got over there!" said Cindy Shelton, of the state's Education Information and Accountability office in Tallahassee, as she scanned the figures.
Walton school principals and administrators were somewhat taken aback when the numbers came out. "Anytime you're first in the state, even if it's in a snuff-spitting contest, it tends to draw attention to you," allowed P.C. Rutherford, Walton school superintendent.
"But look at it this way: Would you rather be low in paddlings and have anarchy in your schools, or would you rather be high and have an atmosphere of learning?"
Rutherford said he believed his district's paddlings looked higher than they actually were.
"If Johnny Doe gets four paddlings in the course of the year, Johnny Doe is written up as if he were four different people. What they are counting is paddlings, not students who were paddled. So these repeat offenders drive up the statistics and give a false picture," the superintendent said.
"Some people might call us old-fashioned," said Terry Miller, Walton High School vice principal. "But we are not a bunch of ogres up here, beating children at the drop of a hat. We tell the parents: We realize we are dealing with the dearest thing to your heart, your child. If parents don't want their child paddled, all they have to do is tell us so, and we won't."
Miller had paddled his own niece, Jennifer, that very morning. "She hugged my neck afterward and cried and said she knew she was wrong."
Walton County is a wide, green, lonely place with a population of about 25,000, all-but-lost in an immensity of fields and pastures rolling up to the Alabama line. Football loyalties waver here. Many care more for the University of Alabama than for Florida State University. Superintendent Rutherford has a poster of Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant on his office wall.
Walton boasts the topmost pinnacle in all Florida: Lakewood Park, elevation 345 feet above sea level; and the oldest Confederate War memorial in all of Florida, a small marble obelisk set up in 1871 by the ladies of the "Walton County Female Memorial Association.
It is still a very homespun place. Family ties are strong, the circle of acquaintances tight and small. Teachers stay on the job so long that they often wind up teaching -- and disciplining -- the sons and daughters of former students. A remarkable continuity exists here, enduring across generations, a quiet continuum practically unknown in a state turbulent with the flux and reflux of recent arrivals.
Long banned in South Florida's large school systems, the corporal punishment meted out in schools here mirrors and complements the spankings and whippings meted out at home. Parents, teachers, even students accept it as normal.
"We've had parents tell us: 'You put it on him.' We have had parents come down and watch, and when it is over, say to us: 'Give him one more for me,'" said Robert Fondren, principal of Walton High. Fondren, who has been at Walton High since it opened in 1969, added with pride that he received his last whipping from his parents at age 18.
Life is still close to the soil here. Farm work is seen as good exercise and useful punishment when necessary.
"I have told my son, if you get sent home from school, you will not be laying up, watching TV. I will get the tractor and disc up two acres of land and have you pick up all the roots
To a remarkable extent, Walton students appear to go along with the system. Paddling arouses no strong protests here.
"We feel ashamed when it happens to us, but when you're in that classroom, and you want to learn, and somebody else won't let you learn -- well, they are dealt with," said Julie Powell, senior valedictorian at Paxton. She spoke while clutching an armful of medals and certificates of merit.
"I think paddling helps a lot. The students look up to Mr. Alford. They admire him. He is really a nice person. He has a lot of morals."
"Most of us would rather get paddled than do detention," said Paxton sophomore Brett Collinsworth. "You feel like: 'Oh, let's get it over with.' If they ask you, do you want to stay in during recess or get a lick, you take your lick."
"Paddling works," agrees classmate Josh Harrison. "What helps the most is when the guy who does the paddling weighs 300 pounds, like Mr. Alford. They can send you down there to the office any time of day with a pink slip. If he's not there, you come back later and meet him. Sooner or later you will find him."
Alford has dark, close-cropped hair, salted with gray, and a craggy face with a wide, thin-lipped mouth. He looks solid and athletic, but he weighs nowhere near the 300 pounds the students insist he does. "Steve Alford," said his boss, Superintendent Rutherford, "looks like a man."
"As a young person, what I most wanted was punishment to be was over with, so I could go on with my life," says Alford. "And that's the way these young people feel. They want to get it over with.
"I try always to talk with them. I put my arm on their shoulder and tell them I don't enjoy this. I don't know a one of them that's stayed mad at me. I reason with them about what they are doing to themselves. I tell them: You are not hurting Mr. Alford. You are hurting yourself.
"I've had other students -- dropouts, some of them -- come back to me years later and tell me, 'Now I realize what you said was so.'"
School protocol requires that paddling be done in private, with one other adult to witness the punishment. The door to the office is closed. No other student can be present. Occasionally parents will volunteer to be the witness at their own offspring's paddling.
"After the paddling, if they are still feeling upset, we sit down and talk to the students. We say: 'That's one that's behind us now,"' said James Huffman, another vice principal at Walton High.
"The most common offense is being tardy," said Principal Fondren. "After their second tardy, they are sent to the office and offered a decision: three licks or detention. Most choose the licks. After the paddling we sit down and talk to them. We tell them, 'Today you had a choice. Your second and third time you will also have a choice. But your fourth time you will have no choice. You will be sent home. Do you understand that?'"
Fondren believes paddling is a far better disciplinary alternative than suspension from school.
"There are some children who ask nothing better than to be sent home. They welcome it," Fondren said. "You've got students who live 30 miles from school, whose parents are out farming or out working. If you suspend them, you're sending them home to an empty house or to the streets.
"So we give a choice: detention, licks or suspension. Students are allowed a maximum of four referrals (to the office) within every six-week period. After the fourth referral, we send them home for two or three days. They get zeros in all their classes for those days."
"I sometimes tell the parents: 'I really ought to be spanking you,'" said David Drake, principal at West DeFuniak Elementary, whose paddling percentage is one of the mildest in Walton County -- 17 percent. "I don't believe that corporal punishment is the answer to everybody's problems. But I do believe it is a very efficient tool.
"It probably has more positive effect on the ones that never receive it than on the ones that do. All the students know it's out there. It is in their minds.
"I have been at seminars where it was suggested that, if Jimmy and Johnny were sitting side by side in the back of the room, and if Johnny were misbehaving, the way to get to Johnny was to say: 'Jimmy, thank you for not misbehaving.' To me that is a little too roundabout.
"Critics may say, well, 'Violence begets violence.' But I don't look on it as violent. If you were to tackle a student in the hall or slap him upside the head -- that's violent. But if you bring in a little boy or a little girl to the office, and in a quiet, businesslike way explain that they have done wrong and they are going to be punished for it -- that is not violent."
If paddling were banned statewide tomorrow, Drake says, it would "seriously hinder the school administration and teachers in their efforts to keep a learning atmosphere in the schools. The knowledge among the students that it is available, that keeps down the need for it. It is a deterrent more than anything else."
Should any Walton County parent oppose paddling, they can notify the school authorities and their child will be exempted.
Comical consequences sometimes follow.
"I had one parent write in and say: 'I've changed my mind. Paddle him.'" Principal Drake said. "I had them put it in writing, and they did."
"I've had students whose parents forbid us to paddle them, come up to me and beg: 'Can you please paddle me? I don't want to go to detention!'" And we have to tell them, 'No, your parents don't want you paddled.' And they say: 'Awww,"' said Walton High Vice Principal Huffman.
In Huffman's signed yearbook are warm inscriptions from students he has disciplined:
"Mr. Huffman, I know I wasn't the best child growing up in high school, but thanks to you, I learned a lot. . . . Now I realize a lot of the things I thought I 'knew,' I didn't," wrote Nicole Jackson.
"My nickname is 'Telly,' " Huffman grins. "All these students know if they get in trouble, I will not keep it secret. I will tell their parents."
Whether it is the fear of the wooden paddle, or whether it is because Walton County lies far from the temptations of more crowded, citified places in Florida, the atmosphere in the schools here is relatively calm and orderly.
There has never been a shooting in any Walton County school. No gun has ever been found inside any of the schools here, though two were discovered at Walton High last year, one on a school bus and one in the parking lot. Both students involved were instantly expelled.
Sam, the Walton County sheriff's marijuana-sniffing dog, has made seven surprise visits to Walton High this year. Each time the dog drew a blank.
"We were beginning to wonder if the dog was handicapped or nose-blind or something," said Principal Fondren. "So a deputy deliberately brought a marijuana sample into the school and hid it in a locker. The dog found it right away."
Finally, Superintendent Rutherford says, paddling nips other problems in the bud. "Our rate of out-of-school suspensions is a lot lower than the rest of the state's," he said. "Check and you'll see I'm right."
He is. Statewide, there were 159,586 out-of-school suspensions in Florida last year, out of an enrollment of 1.9 million students. That is the equivalent of 8.3 percent of the student body getting suspended and sent home for bad behavior.
In Walton County, however, there were only 219 suspensions out of 4,620 students, or 4.7 percent. Walton is therefore suspending students only half as frequently as the rest of the state.
Visiting Paxton is like time-traveling. In the hallway the class portraits of graduating seniors, going back to 1939, are up on the walls, behind occasionally cracked glass, and there is a remarkable continuity of names: Collinsworths, Pridgens, Pittmans, year after year. In the class of 1993, a mere 29 seniors, there are children who have been schoolmates since first grade, 1980, when Ronald Reagan became president.
The young men and women are very polite, and call you "sir" spontaneously. The school is too small to field a football team, but there is a baseball team, the Bobcats. School enrollment, from the kindergarten through the 12th grade, is 665 students.
"What can you get paddled for? Almost anything," laughed Collinsworth, the Paxton sophomore. "Fighting, skipping detention, skipping class, not locking your locker, being tardy, having tobacco on the school grounds."
What about liquor and drugs? What about knives and guns? The Paxton students roll their eyes, half-aghast, half-amused, at the very idea. Beer-drinking occurs, but far, far off-campus. It would mean instant suspension if caught here.
Virginia Pridgen has been Paxton's principal for the past eight years and she looks the part. Awe precedes her, order and calm follow in her train. She has the genuine principal's eye, impossible to fake: a clear, commanding glance radiating pure authority, brooking no monkeyshines. Those whom she fixes with her gaze, no matter how old, are apt to feel that they have suddenly forgotten their homework, or have ink-smudges on their noses.
"Paddling is something I do. I don't enjoy that, but I do it," Pridgen says. "We have other forms of punishment, like yard detail, where they pick up trash during breaks, detention, staying in during recess. But we do paddle, yes.
"We expect them to go in with their textbook, their paper, their pencil. We expect them to have a seat and stay in it and listen to what the teacher says, and wait your turn to be called on. If they are sent out of the classroom, and it's their first offense, we caution them with a verbal warning. But if it is their second offense, we give them two options: detention two days or one lick. We never give more than three licks for any offense."
Pridgen has three paddles in her office, two ornamental ones for show (one of these is carved in the shape of a wooden hand) and another for the real business. A fourth paddle, with cookie-cutter holes in it, is kept down in the cafeteria at Paxton, again for show. It is not used. Students have scribbled their initials all over it.
The one working paddle at Paxton is about 18 inches long, three inches wide and three-quarters of an inch thick. Its handle is glassy-smooth, polished with use.
This paddle once accidentally got tangled up in a civil defense radio antenna cable in Pridgen's office. Instantly a new and terrifying rumor swept through the Paxton student body.
"They said I was using an electric paddle," Pridgen smiled. "You'd be surprised how many students believed that story."
Los Angeles Times, 20 June 1993
Schools Taking the Paddle Out of Discipline
But some principals still view corporal punishment as more effective than any lecture
By Katharine Webster
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Susan Trippett was alarmed when her 10-year-old son brought home a detention notice with the words "Corporal Punishment" printed at the bottom.
She called principal Dan Hinkle and told him he could not paddle Timothy. But Hinkle told her he could -- and the law said so.
"If corporal punishment were used as a first alternative instead of a last, that would resolve a lot of problems earlier," said Hinkle, principal of the elementary school in Jane Lew, W.Va.
But the tide is against Hinkle and others who would not spare the rod. A bill introduced last year in Congress by Rep. Major R. Owens (D-N.Y.), would prohibit corporal punishment in all schools that receive federal funds.
In recent months, the Maryland and Washington legislatures voted to join 22 other states banning corporal punishment in public schools. Nine other states may follow suit, said Nadine Block, coordinator of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in the Schools, which is based in Columbus, Ohio.
The upshot? Elementary and secondary schools surveyed by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights reported about 614,000 instances of corporal punishment in 1990 -- down from 1.5 million in 1980. Even in states that allow the practice, educators are often inhibited by the threat of lawsuits or criminal prosecution.
In Texas, which, with Arkansas, has the highest rate of paddling, 26 principals have been investigated by prosecutors or grand juries in the last five years, said Brad Duggan, director of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Assn. in Austin.
In every case, charges were dropped or the principals were acquitted because they had followed the policies of their local boards, Duggan said. Still, Duggan warns his members that paddling is not "prudent." "While you win the case, it's hard to handle the allegations that you have abused a child," he said. "It distracts from your other educational goals."
Opponents of paddling also cite government statistics that indicate punishments are unevenly applied -- that black children are more than twice as likely to be paddled as white students; boys are paddled more than four times as often as girls; the disabled, poor and young are punished more often.
"It hurts the schools," said Jimmy Dunne, a former teacher who founded People Opposed to Paddling Students in Houston.
"It makes kids more aggressive, more likely to fight, and go out and vandalize the schools. They hate school, so there are more dropouts and lower test scores," Dunne said.
Irwin Hyman, a professor of school psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of "Reading, Writing and the Hickory Stick," said children who are paddled or are threatened with paddling may develop a fear of school, nightmares, bed-wetting, stomachaches or headaches. Corporal punishment can get children to stop an unwanted behavior for a short time, he said, "but that doesn't teach learning or different behaviors."
"Positive reinforcement is the most effective motivator," he said. Still, many educators say such research contradicts their experience. "Today we have drugs, violence and teachers being beat up. Twenty years ago we didn't have to spend a penny for security guards in schools," said Richard W. Miller, director of the Congress of Houston Teachers in Texas.
"I taught 34 years in high school. I coached 15 years. As far as I'm concerned, the old ways are still the best," Miller said. Some psychologists also maintain that young children understand swift, nonverbal punishment better than a lecture.
Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian group based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and led by child psychologist James C. Dobson, counsels families and teachers that spanking is appropriate for children who have committed acts of "willful disobedience or blatant defiance of authority."
"At an elementary-school level, it can be useful if administered fairly and with consistency, but it isn't appropriate at a junior or high school level," said spokesman John Perrodin.
The law in West Virginia, as in many states, restricts paddling with the intention of preventing abuse by teachers. Schools also must attempt to notify parents a day before the paddling is administered.
But the law does not require parents' permission, as Trippett found out last October when her son and another boy were assigned detention for fighting.
Trippett came from New Jersey, where corporal punishment had been outlawed for more than a century. When she read the punishment form, and saw that paddling was allowable, she was appalled.
"I don't see how they can paddle a child in the schools if Child Protective Services can investigate you for child abuse if there's a red mark on your child's face. So how can they use a paddle if you can't even use your hands?" she said.
Though her son was never threatened with paddling, Trippett told Hinkle she would pick up the third-grader and his records. She would not allow him to remain in a school where he could be hit.
But Hinkle had Trippett arrested for disturbing the school. A magistrate ordered her not to communicate with her son's teacher or go on school grounds; she decided to plead no contest and paid a small fine in January because she feared the cost of a jury trial.
Hinkle said he has not used corporal punishment at his school for two years. He said paddling children is his "least favorite" job, but it is the only effective form of discipline for some students.
Also, many parents want him to paddle their children, especially if the alternative is several days' suspension, he said.
According to Hinkle, some students prefer a paddling too.
"There was a boy who was suspended at the high school level on 10 separate occasions. I paddled that boy once and I never had any more trouble out of him," he said. "Four years later, he thanked me for paddling him when nobody else even cared."
Trippett's son, Timothy, said the threat of a paddling probably does make students behave. But, he said, all of the students think Hinkle is "mean" and most are afraid of him. And a few boys brag that if the principal tries to paddle them, "they'll punch him," he said.
Copyright (c) 1993 Times Mirror Company
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