Mississippi Education Gearing Up In Reverse
By Jordan Riak

More parents than ever before are speaking up when they discover that their children have been manhandled or battered by teachers. And the teachers--a small minority of their profession who do the majority of the manhandling and battering--are clamoring for legislation to protect them. Why, the teachers ask, are parents making their lives miserable with false accusations and causing embarrassing, unwarranted investigations? Why are teachers suddenly being prevented from doing their job? Don't those namby-pamby, overprotective parents realize that every child sometimes needs "hands-on" education? Don't they understand that when schoolchildren get a little tap or a touch from their teacher, it's mainly to get their attention and to steer them on the right path? Do parents today really want to raise a generation of delinquents who don't understand right from wrong and have no respect for authority? What ever happened to 'spare the rod' and good ol' fashioned discipline? More than a few law makers are swaying in unison to this familiar old music.

This letter of February 25, 2001 from my friend, Johnny McPhail, came as no surprise:

"Hundreds of parents and children in Mississippi have been humiliated, had their homes searched, children (even those with disabilities) arrested (and at times strip-searched with or without an arrest), paddled, expelled, sent to alternative school under zero-tolerance. Our legislators have done nothing to stop it. But they really "jump" to it when something happens to ONE teacher. Note: The incident occurred on Nov. 21, 2000 and the teacher was not served until Feb. 14, 2001. In my opinion if there is alleged child abuse action should be taken immediately.....Johnny McPhail"
According to the parent who lodged the complaint, the teacher "purposely caused bodily injury to an 8-year-old minor child by grabbing her cheeks, pressing them very hard, forcing her head up," but "The Tupelo School District investigated the complaint and found [the teacher] did nothing wrong." (Commercial Appeal, 2-25-01) Now, Mississippi Rep. Steve Holland (D-Tupelo) says of his proposed legislation: "All this does is establish a policy that teachers have authority in the classroom."

Obviously Representative Holland doesn't remember how it feels to be an 8-year-old getting squeezed on the cheeks and getting one's head jerked about. Amnesia is corporal punishment's best friend.

For the full Commercial Appeal article (2-25-01) see "Strip-search of teacher prompts legislation."

In another article calculated to evoke sympathy for the accused Mississippi teacher, "It could scare off good instructors, some say," The Clarion-Ledger, 2-2-01, one reads that the teacher was "arrested after verbally chastising a student." It conveniently omitted to mention the physical part, or the fact that it took nearly three months for authorities to act on the parent's complaint. One would think that a parent's claim that her child had been physically assaulted and hurt would get quicker action. One would expect that such gross laxity on the part of law enforcement would trigger swift action by the legislature to assure that the state's most vulnerable citizens are duly protected.

"Discipline" was alluded to twice in the Clarion-Legder article, but there was not the slightest hint about what that word means in the context of Mississippi education. Let me fill you in.

According to the Office for Civil Rights l998 Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report, Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of schoolchildren beaten on their buttocks by paddle-wielding school teachers. The 49,859 recorded paddlings for the '97-'98 school year amounted to 10.1% of the total school enrollment for the state at that time.

One can only guess how much finger jabbing, ear yanking, cheek squeezing, and general manhandling goes on in such an environment. And one can only guess how many good instructors are driven off because they find it impossible to function as professionals in a school system where unprofessionalism reigns, where blatant child abuse is rampant and tolerated.

But some parents are objecting. Some are doing what they can to protect their children, which is their right and their duty. In Mississippi, however, there is not a whole lot a parent can do. If Representative Holland has his way, there will be even less.

The Clarion-Ledger article deserves a detailed response. I'm tempted to do it, but then I'd get nothing else done for the next two days. Instead, I suggest you read it yourself and arrive at your own conclusions. Just relax, take a few slow, deep breaths and then go to "It could scare off good instructors, some say". When you're done, take the dog for a long stroll. It'll calm you both.

Readers who have been following this issue may have noticed that the current spate of bills aimed at shielding adults from the legal consequences of their "disciplinary" practices seem to emanate mainly from the paddling/spanking hotbeds of the nation. Such places have a lot to shield.

February 27, 2001
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