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School CP - September 2001

Ottawa Sun, 10 September 2001


Spare The Rod, Spoil The School

By John Downing

This is the time each year when I wake every morning thanking God I no longer have to go to school.

I don't want snide comments that judging from the grey, wear and sagging, it surely has been an eternity since I last went to school.

True. Basically, four decades, if you ignore credit courses later at U of T.

So it was in the distant past when I went to the little school in Chesley (which, in answer to every pupil's prayer, burned down), the big classes at Weston, second-oldest high-school in the city, and then Ryerson.

I did it every possible way, from being the top student to the bottom student in the subject, depending on my interest, and whether I was at war with the teacher.

War? Well, let's see. In Grade 3, Miss McLean gave me the strap 85 times, which I declared was a record. Then she retired. In Grade 8, my teacher, who was also the principal, used to strap me so hard, the buttons flew off his shirt. Mr. Sanderson (I never knew teachers had first names) was a great teacher and an ardent proponent of grammar. As faithful readers know, I never learned a thing, and sinful dangling participles and subjective completions -- is there something called that? -- are as much a mystery today as they were when the school burned.

My biggest confrontation was when little Mr. Heard, the math teacher, punched me in the face in Grade 13 because he said I kept talking. (It was my cousin Bill Plewes.) What did I do? I laughed, instead of reporting him. And he never talked to me again.

We had those departmental exams to determine graduation from high school. Everyone in the province sat the same exams, and they were marked mysteriously downtown by teachers not from your school. And those marks determined whether you made it to the few universities around.

I can tell you that years later, when my kids were in university and I could look back on some success in the scribbling business, I was still having the occasional nightmare about opening a departmental exam and finding I didn't understand one question. I would wake and, as the sweat dried, remind myself that I had a degree and school had been over for decades.

So, you would suppose, judging from this snapshot of a chaotic school career, that I would be opposed to corporal punishment (that means the strap, not hanging, a difference that had to be explained to a Toronto school trustee) and that I would oppose province-wide testing.

Favour the strap

Nope! I favour the strap, although not 85 times for a nine-year- old. It's a small price to pay to tame an unruly class. Spare the rod and spoil the school system.

More discipline for pupils (and teachers) would tame the chaos, but no need to let the pendulum swing all the way back to 40 years ago.

There should be province-wide testing every two years for all students, if only to get more of them capable of handling the three Rs and do a better job of weeding the bad teachers.

Let me argue that the concern throughout North America about how girls do in science and maths should be dwarfed by the concern over the scandal of the basic discrimination by teachers and authorities against boys. As someone who was never a goody-goody two-shoes, a cute boy or a neat girl with a winsome smile, I experienced first- hand the craving of elementary teachers for compliant girls and easy pupils.

Yes, you say, but that was long ago. You're out of date.

Oh, really! I have four grandsons. John Henry Francis, 10, is going into Grade 6 in California, and brother Marc Oliver, 7, is going into Grade 2, and I have listened to their parents about experiences in Etobicoke and Boston. It would be nice that by the time Matthew, 3, and Michael, 2, make their way upward from nursery classes in the same Etobicoke school their father attended that boys be treated better.

But I'm not holding my breath.

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