On April 12, 2003, Charles Moore, a Louisiana school principal, was arrested for "cruelty to a juvenile." He was accused of severely whipping and bruising a six-year-old girl. He hit her four times in accordance with the district's Code of Conduct.
It seems to me that Mr. Moore is as much a victim of bad luck as a perpetrator of bad deeds. His legal problems began when a parent noticed bruises on her child. It was just an unlucky coincidence that this whipping, of all the many whippings Moore had administered throughout his career, involved a child who doesn't get bruising punishments at home. If she did, her parent certainly wouldn't have gone to the police to file a complaint. It was Moore's further bad luck that this child didn't conceal her sore backside and keep quiet about her problems at school. That's what many children do, and their parents are none the wiser.
What law did Charles Moore break? What should he have done differently? The rules in his district allow six blows maximum to the buttocks with a wooden stick. He delivered four. If anything, it could be argued, he deserves credit for restraint. Furthermore, the paddling guidelines don't say anything about how hard a child may be hit. The velocity of the swing, the precise angle of impact, the mass of the child's buttocks, all those factors are left for the paddler to evaluate. If the punishment turned out to have been too severe, that only became evident after the fact. And who can be certain that someone else in the same situation would have done it better? Moore, after all, is a tenured professional with many years experience. This wasn't the first time he had whipped a child.
Even in the most controlled circumstances, no two paddlings are alike. Apart from the loud cracking noise at the moment of impact and the sound of a child's screams and crying, the outcomes are unpredictable. Paddlers' strength varies. Their mood varies. Children vary. Some children bruise more easily than others. Some children will sustain ruptured blood vessels and nerve damage with only one blow of a paddle, while others are unscathed by the maximum six. How can a paddler anticipate what will happen to any given child as a result of any given paddling?
Had Mr. Moore been able to foresee the future, perhaps he would have struck the child only three times, or maybe twice, or once. Then, his present problems would have been avoided. But surely no one can fault him for his inability to look into the future. He only did to this child what he had done to others, and what had been done to him when he was a child. He knew the rules, and, like other educators in the 22 paddling states, he followed them faithfully. Today his luck ran out and he's in trouble.
Charles Moore has become a scapegoat, a handy fall guy, being used by the real culprits to absolve themselves of responsibility. Tomorrow or the next day or next week - as long as children are beaten legally - society will need (and find) unlucky chumps like Moore to fill that role. Meanwhile, the real culprits will continue to get off scott-free. Who are they? They are the teachers' colleges that grant degrees to people who haven't learned anything in four years. They are the teacher credentialling agencies and school boards that entrust the care of children to dangerous incompetents. They are the mandated reporters of suspected child abuse who will not report an abusive colleague. They are the legislators who are afraid to tamper with antiquated laws that exclude children from the normal protections against assault and battery that apply to everybody else. They are all the good upstanding citizens in positions of power and influence who privately recognize what is happening to children, but keep quiet about it so as not to disrupt their careers or their social lives. They are the ones who should be arrested and brought to trial.
See Principal arrested, By Carita Jordan and Emily Peters, The Town Talk (Alexandria, LA).
See Dorothy Neddermeyer's comments about the above letter and Riak's response.
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