Spare the rod

October 09, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

You may have seen some of the carrying on about Charlie Fuqua, a lawyer running for the state legislature in Arkansas who has recommended in a book the death penalty for rebellious children

Let's not get carried away. He also says that it would be extremely rare for parents to kill their own children, and that it can only be done when the proper procedures are carried out, as the Book of Deuteronomy prescribes. (Not quite clear to me why so many of the devout appear to pay more attention to the Old testament than the New, but that's just me.) He appears to think that the prospect of the sanction would be salutary in helping children to regulate their behavior. Show a little respect. 

This has also been the week that Texas has been occupied with the niceties by which school officials can beat children. ("Paddliing" is the euphemism there.)

I'm fully aware that the spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child is a venerable precept in child-rearing and education. I believe that it is one of the few points on which Samuel Johnson and George Orwell are in perfect agreement. Dr. Johnson observed of the boys a school that had eased up on flogging, "what they gain at one end they lose at the other." And writing about his own school days in "Such, Such Were the Joys," Orwell said, ''I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried out without corporal punishment.''

In my own schooldays in Eastern Kentucky, in the 1950s and 1960s, the paddle was wielded freely by teachers male and female, and not for gentle swats. I had a female teacher who paddled as a brief no-nonsense necessity to enforce discipline, and I had a male teacher who whacked buttocks with a relish that does not, as I reflect on it today, appear altogether seemly. I was also aware of the go-out-to-the-yard-and-bring-me-back-a-switch school of parenting, though my parents did not adhere to it. 

I, one of those weak, liberal, progressive parents who never laid a hand on my children (and never needed to), find enthusiasm beating children and threatening them with death primitive and monstrous. But as a method for petty tyrants to produce successive generations of petty tyrants and amateur sadists, I suspect that it's hard to beat. 

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