Good Luck

December 05th, 2019

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt


I do not condone or advocate for any abuse of children. When a parent takes out frustration physically on a child, there should be severe consequences.

There is a difference between abuse and discipline particularly in the education system, and when we do not instill discipline and respect during the formative years, we end up with mass shootings and violence in the streets.

I received a few swats during my school years, and not one time did I consider any of them to be abusive. But I have to admit, Mr. Mulkey could swing the paddle with clarity and purpose.

The swats I received in grade school and junior high prevented me from receiving any in high school.

The worst swat was the one I never got from junior high shop teacher Mr. Biddle when he took me to the hallway with his paddle in hand before giving me a reprieve.

The truth is I actually hadn’t committed the infraction he thought I did, which was starting power tools before he gave the go-ahead. When he was calmer later in class, I told him I wasn’t the one who actually started the tools early.

“If you weren’t the one always being the joker,” he said, “you wouldn’t always be the one accused.”


But I had seen the handiwork of Mr. Biddle on other students, from the real trouble makers. I saw the roughest and toughest in tears after Mr. Biddle’s swats, and I knew one thing, I never wanted to experience that for myself.

That’s what a deterrent is. The swat isn’t just for the kid who gets it. It’s a warning to everyone else — behave like that kid, and you will be next.

I earned mine, and I was more targeted as to what behavior I was willing to risk and with whom I was willing to risk it.

Everything we do is about risk-assessment.

If there are no consequences for my name being on the board, then I can assure you I will push until my name is on the board, and I did with regularity.

One day I walked in to class in the morning, and my name was already on the board.

“Hey,” I said. “I haven’t done anything yet.”

The teacher replied, “I’m just getting a head start.”

Fifteen minutes after school wasn’t so bad, either. But I drew the line at 30. That was my limit of what I was willing to risk.

Over time I learned it was just as much a punishment for the teacher as it was for me.

When we no longer see consequences for anyone, we no longer feel the need to live within boundaries.

One such theory falls under social promotion. Even if a student fails every single class, they will move on to the next grade anyway.

When a child is held back, or what we used to call flunking a grade, that was a severe consequence. Basically, it is a year off their life before they graduate.

More importantly, it was motivation to get passing grades, not just for the child who flunked, but for others who saw the consequence of not getting good grades. No one wanted to fail.

Likewise, making the grade to be in Honor Society has a similar effect. If grades fall below the acceptable standard, a student is dismissed from the group. That is motivation to keep your grades high.

Deterrents affect more than just the student who falls below the acceptable standard. That student becomes a role model in a way they never expected. Others that may be at risk of a similar fate make the changes necessary to fall within acceptable standards.

However, if there are no disciplinary responses to poor behavior, the opposite effect occurs. Those trouble-making kids actually become role models to emulate.

If a student knows he cannot compete at the top level, why not compete at the bottom in a race downward?

If you can’t be known as the top, be known for something else.

With today’s social media, selfies and every other way to be known as a mini celebrity, why not make a name for yourself? And if it can’t be done with noble intent, be known as the villain.

Even in movies, the villains are almost as popular as the heroes. There are T-shirts for fictional characters that murder people on film almost as much as for those who try to save people.

Our culture is teaching that the lines are blurred between good and evil, right and wrong, and law enforcement officers take the brunt of this, being doused with water or shot in planned executions by those wanting to make a name for themselves among their own.

Who can outdo me? That is the claim today on social media, and it has people eating laundry detergent and pouring scalding water on themselves just to get their moment of fame.

They were never taught during their early years that negative behavior will result in negative consequences.

There are videos available of students in inner city schools smoking in class and when the teacher tells them to stop, they go to his desk and blow smoke in his face.

What’s the worse that happens? You are given a referral and returned to class.

How is a teacher supposed to maintain discipline in a situation like that?

How is society supposed to maintain discipline with an entire generation seeing examples like that?

Poor behavior needs addressed early and swiftly, and the punishment must send a signal to all students — cross this line and you will be punished. And yes, it’s going to hurt.

The first time we experience the consequences of touching fire, we learn to respect it. When we experience pain, we learn to avoid it.

And the earlier we receive those lessons, the quicker we adapt our behavior to avoid the negative reinforcement.

We have been told that kids do better with positive reinforcement, and we can’t forget that this is important as well.

But it is a fairy tale to believe you can encourage a child out of bad behavior without consequences.

After swats, there should be no grudges. But other students are watching as well, and if one gets away with poor behavior, you can rest assured others will be pushing buttons as well.

I did. But I also knew there was a line I couldn’t cross. We now have a generation believing there are no lines, and their moment of fame is costly.

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