School spankings just made me more determined not to get caught

Jeff Bobo • Mar 22, 2018 at 1:24 PM

In 1982, my middle school administered more corporal punishment in one day than some Sullivan and Hawkins county schools administered in an entire school year— according to a recent state comptroller’s report.

In fact, during two of the three years used in the comptroller’s study, there were zero reported instances of corporal punishment being used in the sampled Hawkins and Sullivan county schools.

Apparently school administrators know something here that they didn’t know in Northern Illinois in the early 1980s because at my elementary and middle schools, children were paddled pretty much on a daily basis. Every day somebody got it, and on many of those occasions that somebody was me. 

The great smelling salts incident of 1982

If I recall correctly, the great smelling salts incident of 1982 at my middle school resulted in about 10 paddlings in one day.

A group of my eighth-grade classmates somehow acquired smelling salts and thought it would be funny to stuff them up the noses of a few fifth-graders.

I’ve never been one to perform acts of cruelty on smaller, weaker creatures and didn’t participate. Justice for the guilty was swift and merciless.

Mr. M, the science teacher, kept a hockey stick in his classroom as a behavior modification tool. He liked to get a couple of steps’ worth of momentum before landing a slapshot on his subject’s rear end.

Not only did that serve as incentive for the guilty to mend their ways, it was also an abject lesson for the rest of us. Step out of line and you will be beaten.

Public opinion on school spanking is mixed

The comptroller’s corporal punishment study that I linked on Facebook earlier this week received several comments with opposing viewpoints.

One mother said, “I signed the paper the school sent home and told my child if she did something bad enough at school to get a whipping, she would get another when she got home.”

Another mom said (in all caps nonetheless), “Nobody has permission to hit my son.”

I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. I got paddled plenty of times in school, and I’m sure it was a deterrent to a certain extent. But it didn’t put an end to my reign of terror. It only made me more determined not to get caught.

In my day, school spankings were normal 

At my elementary and middle schools, first they tried reason with naughty children, and then they tried fear. If reason and fear didn’t correct the behavior, they administered the paddle. 

It’s a formula that kept me and about 60 of the meanest boys you’ll every meet in line at my middle school.

Well, not always in line.

My paddle-worthy behavior generally centered around the lunchroom. We had a seventh-grade social studies teacher, Mr. S, who was a former college basketball player and appeared to us youngsters to be about nine feet tall.

He was also the lunch room monitor. Our gym doubled as a lunchroom, with two grades having lunch while the other two grades were still in class. Due to the gym’s proximity to three wings of classrooms, a gym full of “tweens” was required to eat lunch every day in total silence. 

It goes against the laws of nature. No talking. No whispering. No loud crunching. 

Lunchroom rules were meant for breaking

Mr. S walked up and down the aisles between lunch tables like a prison guard with a large wooden paddle that was half the size of any child in the room.

If Mr. S caught somebody at your table making sound, he would bring that wooden club down on the tabletop with such force that all other sound was immediately sucked out of the room. You stopped at mid chew.

If that didn’t inspire the level of silence Mr. S deemed necessary, the offenders would be called up onto the gym stage where they were required to grab their ankles in front of everybody while Mr. S administered a whack to their rear end with his wooden club. Even the toughest kids in school couldn’t hide the pain.

I got my share of those whacks for general noisiness and being a wiseacre. What really enraged Mr. S, however was lunchroom projectiles. We didn’t have cooks. Our school lunches were frozen meals prepared by a company called (and I swear I’m not making this up) the Mass Feeding Corporation.

Sounds like the name of the company that thought up Soylent Green. (Charlton Heston: “Soylent Green is people!!!”)

I blame the Mass Feeding Corporation

It was a lot of the typical Salisbury steak, meatloaf or chicken patties with gooey mashed potatoes and the mandatory peas/carrots/corn medley. They also gave you a plastic spork, which I found to be a perfect weapon for launching a corn nugget or pea.

You could literally launch a pea from half court of the gym into the basketball goal. But woe to the poor soul who got caught doing that by Mr. S.

During this period of my life, I entered a self-destructive cycle where I would shoot peas, get caught, get paddled and then do it all over again. Granted, I only got caught once out of every 100 offenses. In the world of law enforcement they call that “recidivism.”

When he did catch me, Mr. S got his money’s worth, but the paddle only made me more determined not be caught. By eighth grade graduation, I had become a pea shooting criminal mastermind.

Corporal punishment can go too far 

Teachers at my middle school were, with only a few exceptions, bitter, angry people. Aside form being stuck with a bunch of rotten kids all day, they didn’t believe they were paid enough. As a result, we had no extracurricular activities or sports because the teachers refused to coach them.

That probably led to a lot of our disciplinary problems. If we’d had 60 boys playing football, afraid of getting booted off the team if they stepped out of line, they might not have been stuffing smelling salts up the noses of fifth-graders.

To make a little extra money, Mr. S was also a school janitor at night. In retrospect, I can imagine his frustration late at night cleaning splattered peas off the gym backboard and knowing full well who was responsible, but unable to catch “the mastermind” in the act.

One day Mr. S came up to me during lunch and said, “Bobo, tell me one day when you didn’t cause trouble in here.”

Without thinking I replied, “Yesterday.” As it turned out, the previous day had been a holiday, which at the time hadn’t occurred to me, but everybody at my table laughed.

For once I wasn’t trying to be a wiseacre, but Mr. S was furious. He said, “Ha ha. Very funny.” And with a vice-like grip he clamped the back of my neck, lifted me off the bench and launched me into the corner of the gym. (This happened to be the corner lunch table.)

He said, “STAY THERE!” 

Probably should have told my parents about that. But in my day you would never tell your parents when you got in trouble at school because: 1. They’ll punish you too. There is no double jeopardy for middle-schoolers. Or 2. The same reason you wouldn’t rat out an abusive prison guard. You’re still under their power and they’ll get back at you eventually.

With maturity comes better behavior

High school was a different story. I straightened up. Impressing girls became a priority, and most high school girls aren’t impressed by your ability to shoot peas with a spork.

I only got in serious trouble one time in high school. Again, a cafeteria projectile. Somebody threw a plastic glider airplane that landed at my table. I made the mistake of picking it up and throwing it back, which was observed by the cafeteria police.

My sentence: One day in “The Tank.” That’s in-school detention. No talking, no sleeping, no reading, no studying, no nothing. You just sit there. Just a total wasted day, and you got a “zero” on any tests or quizes you missed while in The Tank. No makeups.

It was the worst, and believe me when I tell you, after one day in The Tank my days of lunchroom barbarism were finished.

My reign of terror finally came to an end, and no corporal punishment or paddling was required. Instead I had suffered the worst punishment of all for a teenager. Boredom.

Jeff Bobo covers Hawkins County for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]