Best lessons come from discipline

By Karl Terry: CNJ columnist

Remember being sent to the principal’s office when you were in school?

If you don’t then you came along after the days of corporal punishment in public schools because the sting of a wooden paddle will be seared into your memory if you grew up in that time. Even if you didn’t get licks during your school days the threat of being bent over a principal’s desk was a potent fear and just being sent to the office could reduce most kids to a pile of blubbery Jell-O.

I experienced both the anticipation and the actual red butt cheeks on two separate occasions during my matriculation.

In my dad’s day teachers came off the farm and were tough as leather and had no problem dishing out proper punishment. Students then would get the business end of a paddle or a razor strap right in the classroom. There was also the threat of expulsion by being sent to the cloakroom (room at the back of classrooms where coats were hung).

Dad even got sent with his mouth taped up according to stories he told.

Too many parents with a clouded view of just how perfect their little angel really was eventually brought discipline dished out right in the classroom, to an end. Besides the possible punishment and the threat that your parents would be informed of your visit with the headmaster, being sent to the office was a stigma most good little boys like myself didn’t want on their record.

Sadly, just months into my schooling in Mrs. Harmon’s first grade class at L.L. Brown my record was stained. Cindy Branscum’s blouse was also stained after I punched her in the nose during recess. I don’t remember why I did it, on questioning her 25 years later at a class reunion she doesn’t even remember the event. The consequences of being sent down to Mr. Wood’s office stayed with me though.

I was sent down to the office where I ended up sitting in the big oak chairs outside Mr. Wood’s office for the entire class period after lunch recess. I just received a good talking to before being sent back to class but that wasn’t the source of my real trauma. The students were asked to bring their favorite books to school where the teacher would read them right after lunch recess every day. It was the day for my book to be read and I never got to hear Mrs. Harmon read “Barney Beagle” to our class.

While some scars can run deeper than physical punishment, I can still feel the heat on my backside after Mr. Carter gave me licks during my junior year.

I was caught red-handed exiting the high school parking lot in my 1968 Ford Fairlane amid a cloud of dust and gravel. I don’t remember which teacher was crazy enough to step in front of my vehicle and send me to the office but I felt I had a good reason for driving that way.

It was homecoming and in those days we had a competition pitting the juniors and freshmen against the seniors and sophomores to see who could collect the most cardboard boxes for the fire. After a week or so of scavenging the alleys the easiest way to change the momentum came down to stealing from the opposing side’s stash. We’d learned that the seniors were headed to Lyndon Johns house to make a raid and we needed to get there quick.

Mr. Carter gave me the choice of the paddle or an equal number of days in detention hall. He didn’t hold anything back when he laid into me with that paddle. I tried to take it like a man but who knew a paddle could warm your backside that much and actually bring tears to your eyes.

Spare the rod and spoil the child — maybe — but Mr. Wood’s form of punishment kept me out of the office for 10 years.