Yesterday I was going through the cashier line at the grocery store. On that day there were Girl Scouts packing customer groceries in hopes for contributions for a cause. My local grocer usually expects customers to pack their own groceries, so in appreciation I gave her a few bucks. Out of nowhere, a memory shot into my head, so I said to her with a laugh “I used to be in the Girl Scouts as a kid, but told my mom I wanted to quit because the leader always made me stand in the corner.” I told her that I stood in the corner enough at school. I didn’t need that punishment at Girl Scouts, too.
When I got home, I started thinking about how I was often disciplined at school as a child and teen. It was much more often than most (or all) of the girls, or even some of the boys. And yet I smiled thinking how I’d probably do the same things again, if I had a chance.
My husband and I never had kids, so I have no idea what school discipline is like nowadays. My school days were in the 1970s and 1980s – first in Pennsylvania, and then in New Jersey. I have read that discipline has changed a little since then, and also varies depending on what state you live in. I imagine it varies a lot around the world, too.
My first memories of discipline at school usually resulted from me talking when I was supposed to be quiet, not doing my homework, talking back to or challenging the teacher, and coming out with a cuss word (or three). It took me a while to realize that homework wasn’t optional. My parents never really asked about it like many parents do. The excessive talking was just me. I was known to be very gabby, liked to answer every question, and socialize. Challenging teachers was something I did my entire childhood through teen years. If I thought a teacher was wrong, unjust, or saying/doing something they weren’t supposed to, I spoke up. Most teachers obviously didn’t like that!
I haven’t a clue how many times I was sent to the corner of the classroom to “think about” what I had done. The reality was that I actually enjoyed it. I sat there rather daydreaming about things I liked. In one class I would be sent to the corner behind the cubby wall. There it was dark and kind of cool like a fort or something. When the teacher would call me back to my desk I was disappointed.
Even better than being sent to the corner was being sent out to the empty hallway. Did the teacher think I’d be out there crying or something? Heck no! I loved to dance from my very earliest years. Once she shut the door I’d be sashaying, doing leaps, and other movements enjoying the sound of my feet on the tile floors. Music played in my head the whole time. When the teacher opened the door, she’d catch me in the act and call me back in, probably realizing my “punishment” was more like a treat.
I remember being told a few times to write a sentence numerous times on the blackboard as a “lesson”. In one particular case, I was really mad. I had been helping the least popular girl make a paper cup out of a sheet of paper. I felt good being nice to her when others wouldn’t, but the teacher didn’t see it as a good act. She ordered me to write “I will not waste paper” again and again on the blackboard. Every time I wrote that sentence I was cursing her in my mind.
Out of curiosity, I looked up whether US states still allow corporal punishment in schools (meaning hitting, spanking, or “the paddle”). Interestingly, New Jersey outlawed that way back in the late 1800s, but Pennsylvania didn’t outlaw it until after I was in elementary school. Would you believe that many states still allow it today? Check out the map in the link School Corporal Punishment in the United States. Do the red states versus blue states look familiar? If you live in one of the red states and have children in school there now, have you heard of your child or others being punished physically by teachers or principals? If you read that article, there is a very disconcerting fact mentioned. It mentions the disproportionate tendency in some of those “red” states to physically punish black students over white.
In Pennsylvania in the 1970s, it was common for students to get the “paddle”, which was used to spank children who misbehaved. My sister, brother and I all had the “paddle” at least once. I guess we all had a little naughtiness in us. When I had it (given by the principal), I was actually given a choice. He said “Do you want the paddle or do you want to stay after school as punishment?” Like Sis and Bro, the obvious choice was the paddle. All three of us knew that if we came home late for dinner, the punishment would be far worse. The paddle didn’t hurt at all. All three of us recalled holding back laughs when it was administered. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really support schools administering corporal punishment, but at the same time I wouldn’t want my child (if I had one) to receive other punishment more psychologically damaging.
When we moved to New Jersey, after school or weekend detentions were the norm, and I had a few of them. In these cases, the punishment was mostly for talking back or challenging teachers. I had a mind of my own and extremely strong opinions, as a teen. I also made a habit of waging complaints against the teacher to other school staff. Actually, I remember doing so as a little kid once, too. I think I was maybe eight years old when the nasty teacher asked for my homework. I told her I couldn’t find it. The truth was I hadn’t done it. She went into a rage. She flipped over my desk, causing a loud slam and papers flying. Then she went to my cubby and tossed out all the papers there, too. She ordered me to pick them up and then go to the principal. When I got to the principal, I waged a major complaint against her calling her violent and saying that she made many of the students cry, including the popular boys. But I never cried. The principal told me to ask her what she wanted me to do in recompense, but I think he deep down knew she was acting inappropriately, and restrained from penalizing me himself.
I am a law-abiding adult, and generally a peaceful and kind woman. I never did anything that bad in my life, or when I have, I have learned lessons and repented in some way. However, sometimes punishments are unwarranted or excessive. In those cases, we must endure them, or find a way to make them not so bad.
Were you a naughty child/teen in school? What kinds of punishment/discipline did you receive there?