When my younger brother was in high school, he was suspended for mooning out of a school bus. When I look back on my teen years, I wish I could have been reckless. Exposing my bare bottom out a window wasn’t my idea of a good time, though. I wanted to be the girl in The Beach Boys song who had fun until her father took away the car keys. But because of my limited vision, I never learned to drive. The only time I was ever bad was when I was in the second grade, as you’ll see in the following essay.
In the fall of 1968 after my brother Andy was born, I started second grade at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson. My teacher, Miss Willis, an elderly woman, was also visually impaired. Every morning, after we said the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and sang “My Country Tis of Thee” or “God Bless America,” she said, “All right, boys and girls, it’s now time for us to take our vitamins.”
We lined up in front of her desk and each received a pill. Unlike the nurses at the infirmary, Miss Willis didn’t place the pills in our mouths and make sure we swallowed them. I concealed mine in my pocket or desk drawer.
One afternoon, I knocked over chairs and threw things, much to the amusement of other classmates and myself. I even tossed a figure of the Christ Child. Miss Willis sent me to the principal’s office, but since it was empty, I sat there for a while until Mother found me.
“Abbie, Miss Willis said you were bad today.” I shrugged.
My parents had recently given me a transistor radio for my birthday. When we got home, I hurried to my room with the intent of listening to it. But Mother followed me and took it away. “You’re not to listen to this for the rest of the day. If you’re good tomorrow, you can have it back.”
Although this saddened me, there were plenty of other things I could do to occupy myself. The next day, I was at it again. “She’s jealous of the new baby,” Miss Willis told Mother. “She’s not getting enough attention.”
This time in addition to the loss of radio privileges, I received a spanking. When it was over, I lay on my bed and sobbed. Why was this happening to me? I was only having fun.
I misbehaved at school several more times. When Mother learned of my shenanigans, she took me home and spanked me. The last time it happened, it was Dad who found me in the principal’s office, took me home, and spanked me. For some reason, this left an impression on me, and I decided my fun in the classroom wasn’t worth the pain and humiliation of the punishment I received at home.
When Andy was in the third grade, he developed similar behavioral problems. Our parents and his teachers came up with a different plan. For every day at school when he was good, he received a point, and when he had a certain number of points, he got to do something he wanted such as go out to dinner or a movie.
This approach worked for a while, but in the sixth grade, he got into more trouble. In high school, he was suspended for mooning out of a school bus, and he was arrested for being in possession of alcohol. He also had one or two minor brushes with the law when he was in college. He became a physicist with a PH.D. and is married with children who have their own discipline problems.
As an adult, when I hear psychologists on television and radio say that corporal punishment isn’t a good form of discipline, I can’t help wondering how well these experts know their subject matter. Do they have children of their own? How successful have they been at raising them without spanking them?
It pains me to look back on the punishment I received during my second grade year, but I don’t know what else my parents could have done. Dad was working most of the time, and Mother had all she could do to take care of Andy. She couldn’t always be available like she was before he was born.
Miss Willis said I wasn’t getting enough attention. Maybe negative attention is better than no attention at all. In that case, I’m a testimonial to the effectiveness of a few hard swats on the bottom.
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome