- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2006

A fellow who looked to be about my age (58) approached me before a presentation I was about to give in Whiteland, Ind., and said he thinks the problem with discipline in schools, or the lack thereof, is that teachers and principals are no longer allowed to paddle children.

“All I can tell you,” he said, “is that on the several occasions I got the paddle, it straightened me up quick.”

I respectfully disagreed. It couldn’t have been the paddle, I pointed out, because I was schooled in the suburbs of Chicago, where even in the 1950s paddling was not allowed. Nonetheless, the schools I attended were not brimming with discipline problems, as they are today.

The factor that kept him and me and the rest of our peers in line was the parent, not the paddle. In both his school and mine, children did what teachers told them to do and obeyed the rules (for the most part). The paddle was used in his school, but not mine, but in both cases, if a child caused trouble at school, his parents caused him trouble at home — lots of trouble. My memories of this trouble are far from repressed. They are vivid.

I knew if I got into hot water in school, my mother would know about it by the time I arrived home. So, on my walk home, I would be rehearsing what I was going to say, the tall tale I was going to tell that would absolve me. Unfortunately, my mother never bought my explanations. More often than not, in fact, she would not even allow me to offer one.

“You listen to me, John Rosemond,” she would growl menacingly, while pointing that one ominous finger in my direction, “there will be no ifs, ands, or buts about this, and if you open your mouth in your own defense, you will be in twice as much trouble.”

So, for the third time that day — count ‘em: teacher, then principal, then Mom — I would be scolded and punished, usually by having to spend the rest of the day in my room. My room was elegantly appointed with a bed, chest of drawers, desk, chair, some books, a few toys and curtains. By no stretch of the imagination was it a self-contained entertainment complex. So, while I was in there, I just sat. Or I read. And I waited. I waited for my stepfather to come home.

My mother gave no credence to the prefix “step.” She did not, as Dr. Phil advises, prohibit him from disciplining me. In his house, he was lord and master, and I was a vassal. When he got home, Mom held back nothing, and the next thing I knew, Dad (that is what I called him, at my mother’s insistence, and this did not “confuse” me) was in my room, looking every bit as menacing as a tornado cloud.

In my whole childhood, he spanked me maybe five times, and believe me, I got into trouble more than five times. More often than not, he would just sit down, stare at me, and ask, “Do we need a talk?” And I would say, no, we absolutely did not, because I knew what I did, and I had no excuses, and I was sorry, and I would apologize to the teacher the next day, and I even would wash her car after school. Then he would tell me I had to go to bed immediately, without supper, and that was that, to my everlasting relief.

It would be a long time before I caused trouble again.

If today’s parents did not make excuses for their children and toss the hot potato back at their children’s teachers, schools still would be well-disciplined places. Why, a bit of support from parents even might go a long way toward abating the epidemic of attention-deficit disorder.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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