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Guest column/Lifetime experiences with corporal punishment

(This is the first of a two-part series.)

“Every child deserves an occasional pat on the back, as long as it is low enough and hard enough.”

— Bishop Fulton Sheen

As a retired educator with more than 4a0 years of experience, I have seen many changes in reference to “discipline” in the classroom, sports and life. In fact, during the years, we have witnessed state after state eliminate corporal punishment in our schools. Are today’s K-12 schools and their programs better off without it?

Before I present my case, the reader must know my K-12 experiences. I have taught in the inner-city schools’ environment (in Pittsburgh), as well as in other public and private schools (in Wheeling) at all grade levels as a reading specialist, language arts, health and physical education teacher. I also coached football, track and wrestling at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

With the above being said, allow me to first share with you my personal lifetime experiences as a student, athlete, educator and parent, regarding corporal punishment.

• As a student …

In elementary school, I received a few “whacks” for misbehaving in class and disobeying the patrol boys before and after school. The principal served the honors. The discipline practice definitely straightened me out. And my loving parents totally supported the school administrator.

I learned.

• As an athlete …

As a wrestler, I had high school coaches who displayed their own unique form of corporal punishment. At times, when our head coach and his loyal assistant were not pleased with our performance on the mats, they would wrestle us to prove some very important points. They were very physical, and we walked home very sore. Contemporary research would disagree with their approach. But I must tell you, we were very successful on the wrestling mats, and we revered our esteemed athletic mentors.

We learned.

• As a young teacher …

My initial professional teaching assignment was in the inner-city schools of Pittsburgh. The first two weeks as a classroom instructor I attempted to utilize all the “educational psychology” theories for discipline taught to me in undergraduate school. The approaches didn’t work. My students didn’t respect anything I said. My classroom was in chaos.

On Monday of the third week, I went to the school office to discuss my dilemma with the principal. Below is the essence of that conversation decades ago.

“Mr. Kisick, I am having discipline problems in my classroom.”

He bluntly stated, “I know you are, and I’m thinking about firing you.”

I responded, “I understand. But before doing so, would you allow me to bring the five or six most difficult students I have in my classes to your office and paddle them myself. If you paddle them, it will not help my problem. It has to come from me.”

He answered, “OK, let’s see what happens.”

It worked, and I had no more discipline problems the rest of my days at the school. The students now knew I meant business in the classroom. And the principal respected my fortitude to make such a decision as an idealistic, neophyte teacher who saw the light.

I rarely performed corporal punishment since my “baptism of fire” as a first-year educator. Why? Because I also learned how to play the role as a stern educational facilitator my plebe year in the profession. There’s only room for one leader in the classroom, and that’s the teacher. After all, the vast majority of K-12 students haven’t the slightest idea what they need to be taught. I was one such student during my formative years.

I learned, and so did my students for four decades.

• As a parent …

I still remember when my daughter was 6 years old. She slipped through my hand and ran between two cars onto the street in front of our house. Thank God there were no cars in her path.

What did I do after snatching her up? You probably guessed it. I immediately spanked her bottom after we entered the house, as I stressed upon her the indiscretion she committed.

I suppose some of you are thinking inappropriate parenting. However, the end result was my concern. She never ran between two cars, again. My thanks to B.F. Skinner and his punishment/extinction behavioral theory. Immediate negative feedback was the answer. She wasn’t traumatized for life, and she still loves her dad very much.

My daughter learned.

(In the second part of this series, the author will discuss the top three pros and cons arguments in reference to corporal punishment. Welker, a longtime area educator, holds a Ph.D. in reading education from West Virginia University.)

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