Nuns-and-yardsticks discipline may have a retro appeal

We got so much traffic on StandardNET Live Tuesday that our Web server suffered the equivalent of a migraine headache. The online traffic slam stemmed from Di Lewis’s story about student abuse at Plain City Elementary.

Di’s yarn made the front page of the social networking site Reddit. Our Web server techs anxiously clutch their duct tape any time this happens, because it means many new visitors to our site are clicking away from around the world, straining the box’s capacity. But after some slow page loading during the afternoon, the server was responding normally by evening.

Speaking of school abuse: The Plain City story highlights the ugly truth that privacy laws and other legal and bureaucratic red tape have become a contributor to such outrageous situations and corrupt how school personnel handle them. When kids suffer abuse, the fog of rules and regulations masks it from view, then provides cover for those who could or should have stopped it.

It makes me wonder if the nuns-and-yardsticks philosophy of old was better.

By the time I went through Catholic schools in the 1960s and 70s, the nuns had put away their yardsticks, but they didn’t need them. They’d still freeze you with a glare or a sharp word, no need for the wood. All those tough old nuns are gone, and I realize now that their iron hand was the reason kids most of the time shut up and studied like they were supposed to.

My own experiences under the yoke of parochial order were a beach vacation compared to what my father and his brothers lived to tell about. My dad, who was by all accounts a handful for his teachers himself, has told us riveting stories of his older brother, Donny, and the challenges he presented to the elementary school priests and nuns of Cheyenne, Wyo., of the 1930s.

One day, the story goes, a priest used a dictionary to teach Uncle Donny a lesson. Rather than reciting from the tome, the reverend smacked Donny across the skull, knocking him to the classroom floor. Donny learned his lesson that day, groggily returning to his desk. The family thinks the dictionary blast probably concussed my uncle, the elementary school upstart.

Donny wasn’t done drawing fire. Another time, a nun got so angry at him, she took a sweeping open-handed swing at his noggin. Donny ducked and the nun instead slapped the chalkboard. The next day she showed up at the front of the class with her arm in a sling.

My uncle survived all of this just fine, and the three R’s soaked in. He flew a Navy dive bomber in the Pacific in World War II and later headed the Civil Air Patrol in Wyoming.

Would the awful story unfolding in Plain City Elementary today have had a different, perhaps better, plot under the influence of an old-school management approach?

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4 Responses to Nuns-and-yardsticks discipline may have a retro appeal

  1. Flatlander100 says:

    Yeah, well, Mark, the problem with the old standard is it was as subject to abuse as the one we have now, or any other one you or I might think of. [Giving a problem student a concussion strikes me as not within the reasonable bounds of classroom correction. A rap on the knuckles does.] And whatever comfortable assumptions we may have had about Catholic clergy, those of us raised on movies in which Barry Fitzgerald or Bing Crosby played lovable but down to earth priests with hearts of gold, pretty much evaporated in the clergy sex scandals of recent years.

    But the legal-privacy mania has, I agree, gotten way out of hand, and not just in the schools. Despite my wife and I having having filled out forms half a dozen times giving the same med provider permission to give either of us medical information about the other, my wife was delayed getting needed care when the clinic got me on the phone late on a Friday and refused to tell me what they wanted, insisting they could talk only to my wife. Next call back was Monday, three days later.

    The schools/privacy matter [like the meds matter] requires the application of common sense to bureaucratic pettifogging. Lotsa luck.

    As for giving the yardsticks back to nuns [and other teachers]…. only if you can assure me the priests or principals they report to will be played by Barry Fitzgerald or Bing Crosby.

  2. Blue Lou says:

    Being an Air Force brat, I grew up attending a wide range of schools in various states and countries. I was in 6th grade when we moved to San Antonio Texas. The Vice-Principal carried a large paddle around with him every day. He occasionally used it on trouble makers (male ones, at least) but not as often as you’d think. The mere knowledge that bad behavior would be countered by the paddle no doubt curbed some unruly behavior. Or at least drove it underground. At any rate, I survived Texas 6th grade, and I’m sure all of my classmated did, too. To tell you the truth, I was more traumatized by the fact that the boys lavatory stalls didn’t have doors than a plank wielding middle-aged man.

    Did abuse exist when corporal punishment was the norm and the rules were more lax? Sure. Does abuse exist despite the plethora of red-tape and sensitivty training that is the norm now? Sure. I believe common sense is the best tool in administering schools. Common sense by the teachers and staff, common sense by the parents and PTA, and common sense by the State. When one aspect of that trinity looses it’s way, the other two entities can bring pressure to bear.

    Is that too simple to understand?

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