Commentary

A.C. Snow: Musings from the spanked generation

February 23, 2013 

I am a member of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” The “Greatest Generation” was, generally, a spanked generation.

Spanking and “switching” were the disciplines of the day. My mother’s switch of choice was the durable hickory, with the more convenient backyard peach tree a close second.

None of her several sons was psychologically scarred. None grabbed an AR-15 and wiped out a schoolroom of kids. In fact, the only mass killing I remember was Charlie Lawson’s Christmastime murder of his family, a tragedy immortalized in song.

Today’s kids are strangers to the switch. A favorite anecdote involves a friend, Mary Ruth Crook, who, while driving with two small grandchildren in the car, repeatedly reprimanded them for bickering.

“If you two don’t stop that this minute, I’m going to pull this car over and switch your legs,” she threatened.

Silence. Then a loud whisper: “What does she mean?”

“She means she’s gonna stop the car, pull our legs out and switch ’em around!”

Momentum is building for banning spanking in our public schools in order to improve the state’s image. Whether legislation brings that to pass or not, spanking will soon die of natural causes. Only nine of the state’s 115 local school districts now allow it.

Spanking in school was commonplace in my childhood. Even then, some teachers opted for other forms of discipline, such as having misbehaving students stand on one leg in the corner or spend time on the dunce stool.

I’ve never forgotten the day in second grade, when a shy little girl, caught whispering to a friend, was made to stand with her nose in a circle at the blackboard. Pretty soon, two streams of tears trickled down the blackboard. I despised the teacher for such cruel humiliation.

Today’s progressive parents resort to innovative tactics of discipline.

When I inquired about a friend’s teenage granddaughter, she replied, “Betsy’s in a much better mood now that she has her bedroom door back.” Her dad removes the door when she misbehaves. Privacy is precious to a teenager.

A Raleigh granddad was concerned that he hadn’t heard from a favorite grandchild in almost a week. His texted inquiries brought no responses. Finally, the granddaughter messaged that she had temporarily lost her iPad privileges because she mouthed off.

Another mother removes favorite items from her children’s rooms until their conduct improves.

A strong and imaginative principal is essential for a well-run school.

During her first year teaching, my wife had to deal with a couple of bad characters. She took the problem – and the boys – to the principal.

He led the lads out behind the gym, provided them with a wheelbarrow and shovels, and instructed them to move a huge pile of gravel to the front of the gym and then report to him.

When, hours later, they reported the task completed, the principal ordered them to move the gravel back to the original location. End of problems with Lacy and John.

In “Just So Stories,” British author Rudyard Kipling, addresses the spanking issue in “The Elephant’s Child.”

A baby elephant is punished for his “ ’satiable curtiosity,” such as asking, “What does the crocodile have for dinner?”

The little elephant complains that his father has spanked him, his mother has spanked him, and all his aunts and uncles have spanked him for his “ ’satiable curtiosity.”

The story ends as a child would have it end.

The elephant’s child goes down to the banks of the great grey green, greasy Limpopo River and asks the crocodile about his dinner menu.

The crocodile, irritated by the youngster’s “ ’satiable curtiosity,” seizes the small elephant’s nose and pulls and pulls and pulls until it becomes “a really truly trunk.”

So, the young elephant returns home and spanks his parents, his tall uncle, his broad aunt and everybody who has ever spanked him. After that, nobody ever spanked anybody again.

A good lesson learned.

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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