How to hurt children
Here in Pennsylvania there's a true story about a grade school principal. He came into supervision of a really crappy school and turned it around. Thing is, he had one particular 'trick' he used a lot to discipline students: Lines.
Using the writing of lines has been implemented as a school punishment for almost as long as there has been school. Whether it's writing 'I will be quiet in class' a hundred times or copying from the works of Aristotle, having children write has always been a common penalization.
That is, until, one child in this school complained about it so much their parents filed a grievance that the principal was inflicting corporal punishment by asking the children to write. Other parents soon joined the chorus, and as those are serious charges, the principal was removed from his post.
Quick change of gears, and timelines...has anyone here ever read the original Grimm's fairy tales? They are quite twisted. The prince in Sleeping Beauty hadn't woken the girl with a kiss. He had raped her. The Dwarves in Snow White were more likely to start fighting about beer than to answer to cutesy Disney-esque names.
They started collecting old folktales and assembling them into print in the early 1800's, which means that the stories that they collected were probably much older verbal traditions than that. But one thing was very common in many of them; children were prone to suffering. They would be left alone to starve in the woods. They would be torn apart by wild animals. They would be murdered and carved into roasts and stews and fed to their own parents.
And why not? It was never an easy world for children to live in. Cold spells and poor harvests did force parents to opt to abandon their young. Victorian workhouse children and urchins alike are famed for their sufferings.
Except they really don't in our society anymore. In Philadelphia a teacher was crippled from having his spine broken by grade schoolers that attacked him. Yeah, he probably could have overcome them, but the law forbids an adult from defending themselves. It happened to me as well, to a lesser degree, when one of my students punched me. The school's disciplinary action was to inform the student if he apologized he wouldn't be 'written up'. Not that writing a student up does anything but put their name down on a piece of paper. The student just chuckled, said: 'Whatever. My bad, yo.' and escaped any repercussions while enabling himself to get in a dig of sarcasm.
And it's not just teachers. The news has it's share of stories of parents who have given appropriate discipline to their children, only to have the child or a nosy neighbor involve Child Protection Service groups to discipline the parent.
Jenny's recent blog got me to thinking: Children shouldn't be invulnerable. They shouldn't believe that until they are 18 they can act with complete impunity. That they can hurt whoever they want, including themselves, and someone else will always be there to fix it for them.
Simply enough, children need fear. They need suffering. It keeps them aware that they have to act in a way that will please the adults that protect them. I'm not saying we need to go back to an era where Grimm's tales become a reality again. But do we give any service to our children by providing overwhelming shelter?
Back to the beginning. That principal I mentioned. As could probably be expected, the moment he was removed from his post the school started to decline. It became worse than it had been before he arrived, and within months deteriorated to one of the worst schools in the district. The children had been sent the signal that they were in control, and they did take over. Discipline became non-existent, and grades fell to the point where No Child Left Behind was going to cut school funding.
So they went back to the principal who had helped them out in the first place and asked him to return. He told them what I would have said myself if I was in his position...