Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Story

The lady who cuts my hair told me a story today.

She's about my age, so this story happened in the late 1960s, in a very small Texas town.

She's dyslexic, which I never knew, and she said that she still gets nervous when she reads in front of people. I asked her why.

She said that back in the day, parents were discouraged from teaching their children before they went to school, so her mother sent her to first grade without knowing much of anything that was specific to school.

She'd never tried to read or learn the alphabet, so she didn't know that anything was wrong.

During the school year, the teacher asked her to identify a letter in the alphabet, but she wasn't able to.

One letter.

The teacher grabbed her by her arm, lifted the arm up, and beat her on the back of her legs. Beat her until she was black and blue, because she was angry that she didn't know the alphabet.

When she got home, she told her mother, and her mother went to school. In short order, it was discovered that the teacher didn't even have a valid teaching certificate, and she was fired.

Happy ending, right?

Not so much for the little girl who was beaten.

She said from that time on, she never had any confidence in school, and was afraid to answer questions because she might be wrong. She told me all this while she was cutting her hair, almost casually, but I could hear her voice cracking behind me.

This story made me very, very angry, because I feel very protective toward all children, not just my own. There is something fundamentally broken about a person who feels that hitting a child is an effective way to modify behavior. Yet there are people, even today, who defend corporal punishment as "necessary".

I was spanked once in school. I was in seventh grade, and even though I'd done my History homework, it wasn't in my book when I went to turn it in.

Because I didn't have my homework, my teacher got out his paddle (everybody customized their paddle back then, and gave them names), took me out in the hall, and hit me three times.

It was excruciatingly painful. Excruciating. That teacher was all muscle, and he didn't hold back.

If you did that to an adult, it would be assault. But if you do it to a kid, it's "discipline."

This is what kids are being taught in moments like that: violence is perfectly okay when it's "teaching a lesson", or when you're in a position of authority.

Some people deserve to get hit.

And if that affects someone for the rest of their lives, hey, broken eggs and omelets.

I should end the story right here, shouldn't I? All neat and tied up. Except it's almost never that simple.

In my case, the teacher who hit me was my favorite teacher in Junior High. He was a solid, stand-up guy. He took interest in me and encouraged me in athletics, which is something none of the other coaches did.

He was on my side. And he stayed on my side.

Yet after he hit me so hard with something the size and shape of a cricket bat, he laughed a little.

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