Fear and pain, the great educational motivators

I remember my physical education class in high school — the instructor (I will not dignify him with the title “teacher”) was a psychopath, as far as I was concerned. He ran the class like a petty tyrant; members of the football team were treated royally and given exemptions and privileges, while the rest of us were subject to his whims and rather vicious rules. We had jock strap inspections every day, and if we were unequipped, we’d be punished; we had to, for instance, run a certain number of laps around the track, and the students who came in last would be punished. And punishment was always the same: we’d be paddled. Not gently, but great walloping strikes with a perforated chunk of wood shaped like a cricket bat. We would be hit so hard that Old Man Earl would actually frequently break the bat on our butts, so he had a stockpile of them in his office. Once he decided to wack every student in the class for some annoying infraction, and he went through three or four of them, covering the gym floor with splinters and broken chunks of wood.

I’m surprised, looking back, on the horrors the PE teacher could get away with because he was the coach of a winning public school football team; I’m most surprised, though, that we actually let it happen, and it was unthinkable at the time to stand up to the blustering, crew-cutted, 6½ foot tall lunatic and tell him that he was a disgrace and ought to be fired.

But I had it good. I was living in Washington state, not Alabama. I also got out of PE classes as quickly as possible and focused on the science courses, which were far more reasonably run. Trust me, you never, ever want to take an academic course from the local coach of brutal team sports.

Now I’ve read this account of one public school teacher in contemporary Alabama.

Payton attends Plainview Elementary and is in the seventh grade. Recently, Lewis claims her son came home from school with severe bruises and welts on his behind. Melissa Lewis said her son was upset, “Mom look at my butt and see if there is something wrong with it? He dropped his pants and I said wow what happened? He said I got paddled because I did not pass my science test.”

Whoa. What possible pedagogical purpose does physical punishment have in a science course? I suppose I could stand up in front of my class and tell them that if they don’t master simple Mendelian genetics right now, I’ma gonna cut a beeyatch, but I don’t think it would have a positive effect on learning.

Anyway, the teacher has apparently been doing this for years. The response so far? Teachers have been sent a letter “discouraging” the use of corporal punishment in the classroom, but it’s still allowed. Why? Don’t ask me. Maybe it’s because the locals are all ignorant thugs, an idea supported by the online poll on the article.

Should Congress ban the use of corporal punishment in the classroom?

Yes, it has no place in the classroom


No, things are fine the way they are

Leave it up to the schools to decide


More guidelines need to be established


Hmmm. How about if teacher and administrator performance reviews were motivated by the presence of a big grinning maniac of a football coach, equipped with a big stick or switch, and anyone who didn’t come up to snuff would get a vigorous thrashing? Views on the allowability of corporal punishment might change a little faster.