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School CP - May 1971

Corpun file 16673


Newsweek, New York, 17 May 1971

Bottoms Up in Big D

As he edged hesitantly into his new sixth-grade classroom at the William Miller Elementary School in Dallas earlier this year, l1-year-old Terry Collins was visibly nervous -- and, as events quickly proved, with good reason. For no sooner had class begun than teacher Aaron Day summoned the fidgeting black transfer student to the front of the room. "Here comes fresh meat," Day chortled. And with that, he proceeded to strike Terry Collins on the backside with a wooden paddle. Since then, young Terry has been repeatedly whipped for a variety of transgressions ranging from misspelling words and tardiness to "inattentiveness."

Surprisingly, Terry Collins's unhappy experience is by no means an isolated case; it has, in fact, been duplicated hundreds of times this year throughout the Dallas public-school system. Although it is a clear violation of Dallas school policy for teachers to strike students without previous parental permission (theoretically only a principal has that privilege), the city's school board winks at almost daily abuses, teachers nonchalantly admit to them and Superintendent Nolan Estes is one of corporal punishment's strongest backers. And Dallas is far from being the only U.S. public-school system that declines to spare the rod. At a time when students' rights have become a national issue -- and when many educators are seeking new ways to make learning a more joyful human experience (NEWSWEEK, May 3) -- the reality of life in numerous classrooms around the country is still rooted in nineteenth-century notions of discipline.


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Increasingly, stricter and more detailed disciplinary policies -- which include provisions for student suspension, expulsion and, not infrequently, physical punishment -- are the subject of annual negotiations between teachers and school boards. Fully two-thirds of the elementary school teachers who responded to a recent nationwide survey by the National Education Association approved of corporal punishment. And in the past thirteen years, the NEA reports, eight states have passed new rules explicitly allowing physical punishment of students. But if the Dallas schools are not alone in their emphasis on what Superintendent Estes delicately refers to as "negative reinforcement," they would seem to be in a class by themselves when it comes to implementation. Eleven-year-old Annette Savage, for example, was spanked four times in one month by Maple Lawn Elementary School Principal Arvo Goddard, who regularly stalks through his building's lunchroom with a 22-inch paddle made from a baseball bat. When Annette's father appeared at a school board meeting to complain, Estes abruptly cut him off and proceeded to chastise the board for even permitting Savage to appear.


Last year, after talking with the parents of a child whose buttocks were hemorrhaging from a school whipping, a member of the Dallas school board introduced a resolution to temper the city's corporal punishment policy. But he quickly withdrew it when Nolan Estes vigorously objected. "I will not be superintendent," the 40-year-old former U.S. Office of Education Office declared, "in a district where principals are not allowed to spank." And, quite clearly, Estes's stand has the support of a majority of the citizens of Dallas. Four members of the Dallas school board, in fact, were defeated for re-election this year by candidates who advocated even tougher school discipline.

Public support, however, may not be enough to carry the day for Estes. Dallas school attorney Franklin Spafford has repeatedly warned that because of recent judicial rulings -- including one by a Federal district judge in Boston flatly banning corporal punishment -- the city's paddling policy could well be overturned in court. This week, in fact, a Federal district judge will begin hearing evidence from two students who have brought suit against the Dallas school administration. One of the youths allegedly was knocked unconscious by a junior-high-school teacher last year; the other claims to have been repeatedly whipped with a shoe by his swimming coach. And although many people in Dallas dismiss them as "troublemakers," the two students do have the moral support of a small but vocal group of outraged parents, called the Citizens Against Physical Punishment. "The more those teachers spank," insists one indignant member, "the worse they fail their students."

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