How far to we want to push punishment in the classroom? With the sad lack of parental discipline today, the construction of the child is left in the hands of schoolteachers. Do we want to discipline children with only the mind? Or do we also want a return to the switch?
Is pulling a student out of a classroom by the ear acceptable behavior today? Not in New Jersey:
A New Jersey gym teach and coach who grabbed a student by the ear and ushered him out of a class has been sentenced to 90 days in jail and won’t be allowed to work as a public employee in the state.
Allen Rushing pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense on July 23 and had resigned from Monroe High School after the Feb. 19, 2009 confrontation.
During his hearing with Superior Court Judge Frederick DeVesa, Rushing said that as “a football coach we’re pretty hands on,” The Home News Tribune of East Brunswick reported.
When we live in a world where a simple, communicative, touch on the arm becomes an accusation of assault — we must understand the memes of communication and the mores of physicality have warped in less than a generation.
When I was attending a Midwestern grade school, we had an older female teacher who had been stricken with polio as a child. As an adult, she was angry and confused, and she would hide her shriveled arm — frozen stiff across her body in paralysis — with a decorative silk square.
We all wondered why she bothered trying to hide her arm — because when the silk blew in the wind, and when she walked down the hallway — the square would billow up against her chest to reveal the secret claw hand of her obvious shame.
One day, when she was in a particularly, but ordinary, bad mood, she pulled one of the naughtier boys into the hallway for a “talking to” that quickly devolved into child abuse.
We, in the classroom, first heard what sounded like the back of the boy’s head being slammed against a metal locker. As we got up from our desks and ran to the door to peer out the window, many of us saw her pinning the boy against the locker with her claw-like polio arm and then slapping him in the mouth with her good hand. The silk square was billowing to the floor.
The boy’s upper lip began to bleed.
He did not cry.
We heard her harshly whispering to him that he was a “good boy” and needed to “behave better” and that he should “watch his mouth!”
When she sensed us witnessing the assault, she released her claw hand from the boy’s chest and ordered him to go get cleaned up in the bathroom. She glared at us and told us to take our seats. She picked up the silk square from the floor and re-covered her shriveled claw.
Nobody ever said anything to anybody about the assault. The teacher continued to work for many years. She wasn’t punished or disciplined or put out on the street like a rabid dog as she deserved. Instead, she was revered by the other faculty for “finally standing up” to a nine-year-old and for “putting him in his place” and for “saving him from the reformatory.”
To this day, those of us who witnessed that assault still cautiously speak of it — as if merely recalling the experience will bring back the monster from beneath the bed. We speak of the bloody moment in incredulous tones that it actually happened before us and that none of us said a word or attempted a rescue or begged for an intervention — probably because we all still know now what we knew back then: We’d be next on the Bloody Lip List, and that fear of an unfair, punishing, authority — and our resentment against a teacher who beat up her students in the hallway like a schoolyard bully — is a loathing that doesn’t soon leave the child and lingers forever in the adult.