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School CP - November 1987

Corpun file 3900


Chicago Tribune, 4 November 1987

Spare the rod, save your hide

Mike Royko By Mike Royko

A kind-hearted lady in Florida has asked me to help sound the alarm about a terrible threat to the well-being of children in that state.

"A dreadful condition has prevailed in Florida for years," she said, "and I would hope you find it appalling enough to write something."

What has upset her is that Florida is one of the few states that permit public school teachers to paddle the backsides of students who have been unruly.

And she sent along a bundle of news stories that, she said, shows how "violence always begets violence."

The stories were about a 13-year-old student in Fort Walton Beach who had been given three whacks on the bottom by an assistant principal.

The boy went home and told his parents. So his father went to the school, looked up the assistant principal and punched him out. The police were called and charges and counter-charges were filed.

Naturally, this touched off great public debate, with people in that community writing to the local newspapers to praise the father, condemn the assistant principal, or berate the father and praise the assistant principal.

Some said that a student being struck by a teacher shows how violent and barbaric our society has become. Others say it is a wonderful practice and that the violent father should be thrown in jail.

Which led the nice lady in Florida to ask me to express an opinion.

After giving it considerable thought, I've come to the conclusion that I really don't know if it's a good or a bad practice.

I suppose if I were a teacher, and 30 or 40 rowdy kids were giving me a migraine, I might find it satisfying to help make them better little citizens by giving them a whack or two.

On the other hand, as a parent I'm not sure that I'd want a teacher or a principal hitting my kid. Discipline should be my responsibility. After all, if I raise the kid, feed and clothe him, plan for his well-being and future, why should I let some stranger have all that fun?

Actually, what surprises me about this story is that there are teachers or school administrators who have the reckless courage to paddle students.

In this short-tempered society, people shoot at each other for driving too slowly or changing lanes without their blinkers on. So that assistant principal may have been fortunate to escape with nothing more than a few stitches in his lip.

I mentioned the Florida incident to a friend who teaches in the Chicago schools and asked him for an opinion. He said: "I don't know about Florida, but it would be a terrible practice in Chicago."

You don't believe in teachers hitting students?

"Listen" he said, "what I don't believe in is some student pulling a knife on me. You think I'd be crazy enough to paddle some overgrown kid who's liable to pick up my chair and break it over my head?

"I had one guy threaten to bring his gang around and blow me away if I gave him a failing grade. What do you think he'd do if I told him to bend over so I could paddle him? He might throw me out the window. I know a teacher who saw a kid sleeping. She woke him up so he gave her a punch in the nose. Now when she sees a kid sleeping, she just talks quieter."

The statistics seem to bear out this prudent approach.

According to school records, during the past four years, there have been 3,043 student assaults on teachers.

A school board official said: "Of course, not all of those were physical. About 990 of them were verbal threats. Only 2,057 were physical assaults."

An interesting statistic. It shows that Chicago students are doers, not talkers.

If you break down the numbers, it means that we're averaging 500 physical assaults each school year. With time out for summer vacation, that's about 50 a month. With weekends and holidays off, that's at least three school assaults a day.

When I shared these numbers with my teacher friend, he said: "Sure, and there would be a lot more than that, but we're smart enough not to provoke them. That's the secret. Don't get them mad at you. Remember, we're outnumbered about 50 to 1."

You make it sound like a prison guard's job.

"Are you kidding?" he said. "The guards have bars and locks for protection. We're right in the cells with them."

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