Paddling: Thank God for Mississippi–and Alabama and Arkansas

September 30, 2006

Whenever a national publication runs what might be called Lists You Don’t Want To Be On, such as percentage of morbidly obese people, number of illiterates, or rate of child abuse, I always pick up the newspaper or magazine with trembling hands to see if Tennessee is there.

Today’s New York Times has a front page article on corporal punishment, complete with a photo of a formidable-looking middle school principal in Texas holding a paddle that would make any fraternity proud.

The article’s seventh paragraph reads:

“The most recent federal statistics show that during the 2002-3 school
year, more than 300,000 American schoolchildren were disciplined with
corporal punishment, usually one or more blows with a thick wooden
paddle. Sometimes holes were cut in the paddle to make the beating more
painful. Of those students, 70 percent were in five Southern states:
Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas.”

Oh, no!  I turned to the inside, and there was a map of the US showing the “percentage of students punished in 2002” in the  22 states where paddling is still permitted.  The figures came from the Center for Effective Discipline, which sounds like a very strange place to work.  But I digress.

The stats are as follows:

Mississippi  9.1%

Arkansas  7.6%

Alabama 5.2%

Tennessee 4.4%

Texas 1.4%

Texas must be slipping.  As we used to say in Tennessee when education figures were released, “Thank God for Mississippi,” for the Magnolia State was often the one that kept us off the bottom–or the top, depending on how you look at it–of various lists.

That Mississippi must be some place–almost one out of ten students are on the receiving end of paddling.  Wonder if teachers are issued official paddles or if they have to procure their own?

My last encounter with corporal punishment was in the seventh grade at Colonial Heights Junior High outside of Kingsport, Tennessee.  I had committed some transgression, and was offered the choice of taking one lick from a paddle wielded by a male teacher or writing an 11-page essay.

Heck, I would have taken one lick from King Kong rather than write 11 pages.  Several of my comrades made the same choice.  We were marched into the hall one at a time, smitten on the backside, then allowed back into the classroom.  The blows echoed down the long hall, bringing the activity in every class to a halt as everyone counted the licks. 

By the next class change, the entire school would have the answers to these questions:  Who got it?  Why?  Did he (for girls never did anything to get paddled) cry? 

As for me, I shed not a tear.  But it smarted. 

In Many Public Schools, the Paddle Is No Relic – New York Times