A spanking of a kindergartner by the principal in Monticello, Georgia, made the national news recently. The mother reported in USA Today April 18, 2016 that she now regrets having given the school permission to paddle her five-year old son. When I began teaching in Colorado Springs in the late 60’s, corporal punishment was the norm in many schools. The following is one of my experiences. (Names have been changed to protect privacy.)
(Elementary School, Colorado Springs area, 1967)
The twins were so cute! I had Mark in my class and my colleague Shelley, next door, had Matt. A head shorter than the rest of their first grade classmates, they were identical, but Mark’s face was slightly fuller, and Matt a little more wiry. Others might be fooled, but Shelley and I could tell them apart.
Their dad was an officer at the nearby army post and their mom was a homemaker. The well-behaved twins had a stable family and did well academically.
So, it came as a surprise one morning when the principal’s authoritarian voice came over the intercom: “Please send Mark Waters to the office.”
The class was aghast. They were all afraid of the principal. It sounded like a call to the firing squad.
I went with Mark to the hallway. Shelley met me by her door. “He just called Matt, too.”
“It’s okay, boys,” we said looking into their white, terrified faces.
They clutched each other’s hands and continued the long walk past the second and third-grade classrooms. They looked so little. Shelley and I wanted to go with them, but we returned to our classrooms.
Ten minutes later, Cindy, the secretary came to our doors. “Mr. Jackson wants you to come to the office. Give your students something to do and I’ll watch both rooms.”
I felt like holding Shelley’s hand for comfort, as we proceeded to the office.
At the door we saw Matt and Mark, still scared, but relieved to see us.
Mr. Jackson removed his suit coat and loosened his tie. A cloud of English Leather cologne assailed us as his body heat escaped into the air. Unsmiling and grim, he spoke in a tight voice. “At lunch hour, instead of putting the milk button in the box, two people put in underwear buttons.”
Oh gosh. I almost laughed. I thought of the black “milk buttons” that the children with cold lunch purchased for three cents each morning and how strange it would look having two delinquent white misfits in with the mix.
“These boys said they didn’t do it.” Mark and Matt vigorously shook their heads. Their brows were furrowed with worry, but they were too afraid to say anything aloud.
“BUT!” Mr. Jackson bellowed, then lowered his voice to an even scarier pitch as he spit out the words, “the lunch lady saw them do it!”
The case was closed. It didn’t sound like something Mark and Matt would do, but defending them was not an option.
“I need you to be witnesses,” Mr. Jackson said to Shelley and me.
He stepped to the wall behind his desk and removed the wooden paddle from the hook.
“Which one’s going first?” (He didn’t know them apart.)
Mark bravely stepped forward.
“Grab your ankles.” Mark’s little bottom, stuck up in the air, was only as big as a man’s palm. Shelley and I trembled. Tears filled our eyes.
WHACK! It almost knocked Mark off his feet.
“Next,” Mr. Jackson ordered.
Matt, crying by this time, for himself or for his brother, probably both, managed to get in position. Mr. Jackson wound up and delivered the second blow.
“You may go back to your classroom,” he declared and the four of us left.
The next day as I went through the lunch line, Mrs. Lacey, the lunchroom assistant stopped me. “You know Mr. Jackson got the wrong twins yesterday for putting the underwear buttons in with the milk money. I told him it was the twins, but I meant those second grade twins. You know Joey and what’s the other one’s name?”
I knew whom she meant immediately. I often had trouble with them at recess. Untrimmed hair, dirty faces, oversized t-shirts hanging out of their jeans. They matched each other in appearance, wily and street smart. Joey had once sold a playground rock to a first grader for a nickel.
“Timmy is the other one, Mrs. Lacey. They’re brothers, but they’re not twins. Joey is in third grade and Timmy is in second.”
“Oh.” She shrugged and continued to punch the lunch tickets.
In my 35-year teaching career in Colorado, I saw the elimination of the paddle hanging on a hook, as a feature in the office of elementary school principals. I can’t say I’m sorry.
Lucy Bell is a retired teacher and writing consultant. She is a certified Native Plant Master and Interpretive Guide at Cheyenne Mountain State Park. She founded Friends of Emerson in Colorado Springs, now in its thirteenth year.