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rainbow ruler   :  Archive   :  1997   :  US Schools Sep 1997


School CP - September 1997

Corpun file 9366

Abilene Reporter-News, Texas, 8 September 1997

That horrible discipline of spanking

By Orville Cunningham
Guest Columnist

We read extensively from those who were not spanked, but little from those who experienced this "horrible" treatment.

Let me note at the beginning, I am for corporal punishment when it is administered by a concerned and caring person and is never done by anyone while he is angry.

I was associated with the educational process for 40 years. I was a teacher, principal, superintendent and dean of students. I firmly believe the instructors or teachers can only polish the gem sent to them by the parents. How the mold comes can be improved upon, but the disposition set by child and parent in the preschool years is the strongest with which to work.

Question: Is it coincidental that when prayer was taken out of schools and the paddle was taken from the principals and suspension substituted, the construction of schoolhouses slowed, and the building of prisons increased?

We had little or no problem with children who came from homes where they had discipline and wanted their children disciplined at school. In most cases, their academic level was above the average.

Here is an example where that outdated method of child rearing was used.

There were eight children in the family. They lived on a marginal farm. All had to work hard to provide a modest living. They never begged, borrowed or stole to supplement their income.

Five of the children became teachers with master's degrees or above. One earned a degree in computer science and headed a large electric company. Another became a very successful cosmetologist, the other graduated from a business college and went on to have a very successful business of his own.

All were Christians, and law-abiding leaders in their communities.

They were all spanked when growing up and were advised if they were spanked at school they would get another spanking when they arrived home.

They were never spanked in anger, and their mother told them it hurt her as much as it did them when she had to punish them. Years later one of the children said when he saw tears in his mother's eyes, he knew what she meant, and because he loved her so much he felt he had been punished twice.

From this eight, 15 more children were born. Two became teachers, one in high school and one in a university. Two became dental technicians; four became computer specialists who traveled over the nation and beyond. Another became a real estate broker after teaching awhile. One became a successful banker after he finished college. One is a dentist and another is an oral surgeon.

One, the baby of the family was denied the benefits of discipline; his mother wanted to rear a perfect child who went through life without being spanked or corrected. She spent much time to and from school on both levels explaining why her child was unusual and did not fit the school pattern.

He never did. He failed in three marriages, failed in college and, at 54 years of age, has not found the pattern his mother thought he should fit.

Punishment alone is not the answer, but if it takes a spanking to keep them in line, let it be. Don't suspend them, keep them in school. It makes no sense to suspend a student for playing hooky or laying out of school. That is exactly what he wants.

Let the schools be in charge. Support them in their efforts to help our students prepare to make an honest living. We need to use good judgment in discipline as well as instruction.

Orville Cunningham, of Abilene, is a former dean of students at Hardin-Simmons University.

Corpun file 1492 at

The Miami Herald, Florida, 23 September 1997

Spankings at school are legal -- unless pupil gets injured

By Arnold Markowitz
Herald Staff Writer

It's legal for a schoolmaster -- principal, teacher, coach -- to spank a misbehaving child, but it's risky.

Those who cross the line from discipline to injury may be taught some harsh lessons themselves:

First comes handcuffing. Then mug shot modeling, fingerprinting, paying a lawyer and preparing a defense. The final exam is a trial. Fail it and they don't kick you out. They lock you up.

How far can a school disciplinarian go?

"If you have to ask that question, then I have great concerns," Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Monday. "I would say don't even get close. There are many other more effective means of discipline.

"I go to a lot of meetings where people say part of the problem today is that you can't spank your kids. Well, you can, but you can't abuse them. . . . One spank or two is permissible, but you can't cause injury. That's not permissible. That's when the law says you cross over into an abusive situation."

The limits came into question Monday, with news that Hialeah police had charged the Rev. Mark Wessling of Faith Lutheran Church with child abuse. The alleged victim was Erik Macauley, a 5-year-old pupil in the church's school. The boy's reported offense: He resisted eating a strawberry, given as a snack in his class. His mother made the complaint against the minister.

Rundle didn't want to get into details of that case yet -- the arrest form had just arrived at the state attorney's office -- but she listed the criteria her staff considers in child-beating cases.

"The statute defines how you abuse," Rundle said. "Cutting. Breaking skin. Bruising. Bleeding. Burns. Any kind of trauma that involves any kind of injury. That includes emotional injury."

The objective criteria mentioned by Rundle often make it easy to decide whether to prosecute. Not always.

Burns from a clothes iron and welts from a belt buckle make for easy calls, but a small, young child could be seriously injured by a few hard smacks that might have little effect on a teenager. Prosecutors who make the call are expected to know all the circumstances and subtleties of a case before filing charges or deciding against it.

Parents, other adult relatives and baby sitters cross the line more often than schoolteachers and principals. Sometimes the accused is an exasperated neighbor. The law doesn't give school and church personnel more leeway than the others, or less.

Monday afternoon in Hialeah, the church staff said Wessling wasn't available. Lawyers were being consulted. Reporters were unwanted on the property, where a sign on the lawn at the corner of Hialeah Drive and Third Street says "open to the public."

School was in session. Parents who came to pick up their children at 3:45 p.m. said they had not hesitated to bring them there in the morning. Most of those who were interviewed said they don't believe Wessling committed the crime blamed upon him.

"My son has probably spent 15 or 20 nights at the Wessling home and always enjoyed it," said John Aldrich, who was waiting for his 12-year-old. Each year at enrollment time, Aldrich said, he signs a release that allows the school staff to spank the boy if he deserves it. He never has.

"I freaked," Susan Hartman said of her reaction, but she took her fifth-grade son and seventh-grade daughter to Faith Lutheran as usual on Monday. Hartman said her sister saw a television news report while on a cruise and called her about it.

"I can't believe it. I just can't believe it," Hartman said. She had seen television, too -- pictures of the little boy's bare bottom, covered with big bruises. "I think the mother framed him. I don't know if it's true, but if it is, he wouldn't have the audacity to hit another child at this time."

Hartman's two kids are new at Faith Lutheran. Karen Lonagnolo's -- five of them, from preschool to eighth grade -- have been going to school there for five years. "Never, not one time, have I had any indication of any kind of corporal punishment being used."

Faith Lutheran School's manual says, "Discipline will be administered with love, fairness and consistency. . . . Corporal punishment is discouraged and rarely used." It goes on to say that when it is used it's to be done with a paddle, but only after other methods have been tried and a parent gives written consent. Wessling was accused of using his bare hand, not a paddle.

The policy also says: "Discipline will not be associated with food, rest or toileting."

The Macauley complaint is the first against Wessling known to the Hialeah police, spokesman Jose Caragol Sr. said Monday afternoon.

Dawn Macauley had followed up her complaint to the police by visiting lawyer Ira Leesfield. He doubts the incident was isolated and suspects that it was part of a pattern of excessive punishment having little to do with childish misbehavior.

"This is a power trip by an adult who's going to force the kid to eat a strawberry," the lawyer said. "It has nothing to do with a kid acting out."

Copyright © 1997 The Miami Herald

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