This essay represents the sixth post of The Angry Czeck Century Series, a thought-provoking collection of penetrating harangues of rancor leading to the Angry Czeck’s 100th Post. You are currently reading Post 93.
It was rumored that the principal of Fields Elementary School owned a glass paddle.
It was also said that his collection of punishment instruments included an electric paddle. One of the fifth grade teachers brandished a paddle with holes drilled through the impact surface – to decrease wind resistance. My third grade teacher was more pragmatic. Hers was a polished piece of board, about two or three inches wide, with duct tape wrapped around both ends.
Throughout my public school experience, “corporal punishment” was the prime deterrent to misbehaving. If a classroom became too loud or out-of-control, a teacher only had to pull out her paddle to silence the mob. Rarely did she wield it, although there were some teachers who leaned on the paddle harder than others.
But it was the threat of punishment that proved most effective. If given the option of writing sentences or copying dictionary pages versus three “licks” with the paddle, the former was nearly always chosen over the latter. Sure, there were the legendary hardasses who always took the licks – the ones who always returned to the classroom with a defiant smile on his face. Those admired few were the rare breed. Most of us weren’t in it for the pain.
Except, there wasn’t much pain to it. There’s a scene in Dead Poets Society where one of the students is interrogated while receiving a brutal paddling from the sour schoolmaster. The film’s director makes it a point to show the schoolmaster rolling up his sleeve before administering the punishment with a paddle that appeared to be an inch thick. At Fields Elementary, most paddlings were administered by women hardly larger than the students. The enthusiasm of the paddle-er ever matched the terror of the paddle-ee. The end result was usually a halfhearted slap to the rump.
Girls were always treated differently than boys. Firstly, it was a singular day indeed when a girl received a paddling. It was like walking outside one night and seeing Halley’s Comet. Secondly, when a girl did get her licks, the force applied was significantly reduced. I recall one afternoon when a female classmate was to get her corporal punishment. She was led into the hallway like royality on her way to the guillotine. We waited breathlessly for the sound of three smacks. But when she reappeared from the hallway, with no smack to herald her return, we knew we had be gypped. The boys in the class could barely conceal their disdain.
In the course of twelve years of public school education, the Angry Czeck received the grand total of one (1) paddling. My crime? I had left my one of my junior high textbooks in the courtyard – for the third time. I was sentenced to three licks, to be administered by the Vice Principal.
Boy was I nervous. I avoided pain the way Dick Cheney avoids oversight committees. To make matters worse, on the day of execution, I wore my thinnest pair of pants! I was an idiot. Those pants were the easiest to “tight roll.” I sacrificed protection for the sake of looking sharp.
When I arrived to the school office, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one slated for punishment. One of the legendary defiant ones that I mentioned earlier was seated on the green vinyl couch. He seemed more surprised to see me than he was worried about receiving licks. In his circles, I ranked somewhere between “dork” and “pussy.”
“Czeck!” said a voice, and I staggered into the Vice Principal’s office. The VP doubled as an assistant coach. He was one of those guys that could grow a mustache just by thinking hard. His forearms were the size of school busses. If anybody owned a glass or an electric paddle, it was him.
“What the hell are you doing in here, Czeck?”
I told him about my textbook. The VP shook his head. “Come here.”
I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment when the VP whipped out a perfectly ordinary paddle – so ordinary I can’t describe it today. I put my hands on his desk, and he administered three licks so wimpy in their execution, I began to fret for my already fictional reputation as a hardass.
“Get out of here,” dismissed the VP, and I retreated from the office while trying my best to avoid eye contact with the Defiant One. I failed, of course. The Defiant One’s silent sneer spoke volumes. Pussy.
In High School, D-hall and suspensions replaced corporal punishment. I figure you just feel ridiculous paddling boys old enough to grow a beard. That, and it pretty much damn near qualifies as molestation to paddle a teenage girl.
Today, corporal punishment has been banished from the Malvern City School System. In its place are metal detectors at the entrances and armed guards who patrol the hallways. I’m not suggesting that the exit of one and the arrival of the other are related. I’m just saying.