I have trouble empathizing with the hundreds of people who protested Saturday in support of a New Orleans high school’s practice of paddling unruly students.
And it’s not just them. I disagree with the practice of beating, whipping, spanking, paddling or otherwise intentionally inflicting physical pain on a child. And that includes not just the schools that do it, but parents who do it too.
Some supporters of St. Augustine High’s longtime practice of discipline by paddling say it’s a tradition that instills respect for authority and reforms student behavior.
“St. Aug without the paddle is like the NBA without a foul,” St. Augustine alumnus Shedrick Roy was quoted by WWL-TV as saying.
Protesters contend Archbishop Gregory Aymond and the archdiocese overstepped their authority when they successfully pressured the school’s board to scrap corporal punishment, especially since St. Aug operates independently, outside the archdiocese’s auspices.
Though he did not comment in person, according to the TV report, his written response to the protest aptly sums up his feelings on the matter.
“Today’s march is another indication of the great passion of the St. Augustine High School community for their school. I share their passion for the school and its success; we disagree only on the issue of corporal punishment,” Aymond said in the statement. “Corporal punishment is not appropriate in a Catholic high school today.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond: “Corporal punishment is not appropriate in a Catholic high school today.”
Aymond is right.
Fortunately, according to the report, all U.S. dioceses ban corporal punishment in their schools, which means it’s not acceptable in Catholic schools in Terrebonne or Lafourche. And though policies remain on the books in the parishes’ public school systems, officials say it hasn’t been enforced in years.
For me, the issue goes beyond one school, one archbishop or one protest. I’ve long been mystified why so many people cling to the practice of beating kids, even their own.
I floated the question Saturday on houmatoday.com’s Facebook page, and many of the responses, as I expected, favored the practice, some of them eagerly.
“Beat that BUTT!” one response says. “That’s what’s wrong with society today, no punishment.”
One person said he and his wife had been talking the day before about the “old days” at one Houma school, where a teacher supposedly carried a paddle at recess. “She’d settle it right then and there.”
I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the responses from those who feel differently.
“It is an awful idea, prone to literal abuse,” said one Facebook post.
“The problem is that teachers use this practice to make up for their failures in the classroom,” said another. “There are better ways to deal with discipline than violence.
I agree with that last statement, and there are plenty of groups online that will explain those alternatives to you. All it takes is a simple Google search for “alternatives to corporal punishment.”
As a boy, I saw friends suffer beatings at the hands of their parents. Some were harmless slaps on the butt, others were so violent I cried for them. Most responded one of two ways: withdrawal or rebellion. In some cases, those effects lingered into adulthood.
As the spiritual leader of his Catholic parishioners, Aymond may have wondered what lots of Christians portend to: What would Jesus do?
Sorry, but I can’t imagine Jesus hitting a child. I just can’t.
I also can’t understand how it is legal to whip an unruly kid, but doing the same to an unruly adult can land you in jail. Spanking can easily go too far, but I can’t imagine a child having the wherewithal or inclination to turn his mom or dad in to police or recommend anger-management counseling.
For me, this is not about school policies or the volumes of studies that show hitting a kid is more likely to cause him or her more problems — in the short and long term — than it solves. I’m not interested in telling parents how to raise their children, and I pass judgment on no one.
I simply state my own beliefs on the matter, and for me, the tears on a child’s face after being slapped, whipped, paddled or beaten by the person he loves the most are enough to reject such parental entitlement. For me, it’s simply wrong to hit a kid. It just is.
Courier Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.