A couple of nights ago ABC-TV news did a segment on the use of paddles for discipline in schools.
That really took me back. Paddles (normally a nice half-inch-thick hardwood board, with a handle carved in at one end) were a fact of life in some of the many schools I attended (10 schools, K-12) as an army brat. You might think that schools on military bases would employ this disciplinary tool with relish, but actually I must have led a sheltered life in that respect -- paddles were not used in those on-base schools, probably because they were federally operated -- so I didn't encounter paddles until I moved into civilian schools off the bases.
My first such school was in California. There were no paddles there either but what I remember was all the foul language and dirty jokes I heard from my classmates. This was a complete shock to me, coming from the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) system where kids just didn't talk that way. But I digress! Back to those paddles....
So it came to pass that it wasn't until my 8th school (7th grade) that I encountered paddles in the mid-1950s: Waynesville, Missouri, Pop. 4,000, the nearest "town" to the rather remote U.S. Army base of Fort Leonard Wood. And yes, I occasionally had a paddle applied to my behind. A lot depended on the teacher; some used them, some didn't. Actually it seemed the women teachers used them more than the men. I remember one old gal who would break out the paddle several times per class (I don't remember her name, or what she taught). Girls weren't exempt, though they were generally far less likely to feel the sting of a board on their butt.
The video above suggests that a kid was paddled because he did poorly on a test. I guess it's possible, and if so, I'd consider that a serious breach of paddle etiquette. In progressive Waynesville, at least, paddles were applied only to kids who "cut up," "sassed," or "spoke out of turn in class." (Don't you love the nineteenth-century rural ring of those terms? I don't think these words are used any more, probably because the things kids are doing in class these days are way worse.) Anyway ... you didn't punish someone for doing badly on a test, so I suspect there was more at work here. Did the kid mouth off?
The video also says the teacher asked the pupil to step into the hall. Another breach. In my day, paddling was always done in class, so that others might learn from it. As the victim here says, "I was trying to suck it up, you know, before I got into the classroom, so none of my friends would laugh at me or anything." Yes, that's what you do, you suck it up, but if your friends see you choking back a snivel or two, it can help them reach understanding.
Of course, paddling doesn't fit well with our current Spockian concepts of child-rearing. It may have served a purpose once, it might even still, but it can't survive in an era in which we try to protect our children from every conceivable bump of life. Nor can we overlook that a paddle ineptly or inaccurately applied can do serious damage to the paddlee. So it was indeed surprising to learn from this report that it's still used widely throughout the south and lower midwest (yes, including Missouri).
Paddling is a dinosaur. If you're of a mind to, you can visit the website that's been set up by a fashion designer named Mark Ecko (no connection to kitchenware, that's Ekco), aimed at stopping the practice. It's called Unlimited Justice.