Last week saw students in schools around the nation stage a walkout to protest the lack of action by the government to the easy availability of high-powered guns that have been used in so many mass killings. In general, school authorities and local communities have been supportive of these actions, or at least tolerated it and did not punish students for the walkouts. Some universities have even said that a suspension for such an action would not adversely affect a student’s application for college admission.
But not at Greenbrier High School located in a rural, very conservative region in Arkansas. Three students walked out of school for 17 minutes, in the face of hostility from their fellow students. A parent reported that the school authorities gave her child and the two others two options: suspension or corporal punishment. They chose the latter. One student Wylie A. Greer described his experience and I was struck by the maturity of his words.
Walking out of class at ten on Monday morning was not an easy thing. Many students were vocally insulting and degrading to the idea of the walk-out and anyone who would participate. At 10:00, I walked out of my classroom to a few gaped mouths and more than a few scowls. I exited the building, sat on the bench, and was alone for a few seconds. I was more than a little concerned that I would be the only one to walk out. I was joined by two others eventually, two of the smartest students at the school.
After the 17 minutes had passed, we re-entered the building and went to our classes. Over the next two hours, all three of us were called individually to talk with the dean-of-students. He offered us two choices of punishment, both of which had to be approved by our parents. We would either suffer two ‘swats’ from a paddle or two days of in-school suspension. All three of us chose the paddling, with the support of our parents.
I believe that corporal punishment has no place in schools, even if it wasn’t painful to me. The idea that violence should be used against someone who was protesting violence as a means to discipline them is appalling. I hope that this is changed, in Greenbrier, and across the country.
I have written before about my feeling that corporal punishment has no place in schools so I will not repeat that here. But I wonder what lesson the authorities expected the students to learn from this. Did they think that it would make them regret their actions, which is often the presumed goal of punishment? If so, they are wrong. I am pretty sure that in their later years, these three students will look back on this experience proudly as the time when they stood up for what was right in the face of negative peer pressure. It will be a formative one in their lives and their fellow students who criticized them will be somewhat ashamed at their own behavior. Authority figures who try to discourage principled action by force should realize that for people that age, such actions just breed greater determination and defiance.