Monday, May 4, 2009

The principal and the paddle

When I was in 6th grade, my teacher Mr. Geiger had a paddle displayed up on his wall. I never saw or heard that it was ever used but it did make us all sit up and take notice.

My husband has stories about his dad, a teacher for over 40 years, and his "board of education". A sturdy paddle with that title painted on it displayed prominently in the front of his classroom. Granted, this was for high school.

What do you think about this elementary school principal?

From Newsweek:

The wooden paddle on principal David Nixon's desk is two feet long, with a handle wrapped in duct tape that has been worn down by age and use. He found it in a dusty cabinet in his predecessor's office at John C. Calhoun Elementary in Calhoun Hills, S.C., where Nixon has been the principal since 2006. He has no idea if the old principal ever used it, but now it sits in plain view for all visitors to see, including children who have been dismissed to his office. As punishment for a "major offense," such as fighting or stealing, students are told to place both hands on the seat of a leather chair and brace for what Nixon calls "a whippin'."

Before he begins, though, he sits the child down for a quiet talk about why he, or she, is in trouble. He tries to determine if a deeper issue, such as a problem at home, might warrant a meeting with a counselor. If the child shows remorse, Nixon will often send him or her back to class without a spanking. Otherwise, he makes sure he is calm, and he makes sure his elbow is still. Then he delivers "three licks" to the child's rear end. If the child is a girl, then a female administrator does it. Some of the kids cry. Some are silent. Some want a hug. And after the child is sent back to class, still stinging, Nixon sits alone in his office and thinks about what the child has done, and what he has done. "If I could burn that paddle in my stove," Nixon says, "I would. This is the worst part of my job."

Before Nixon took over "John C," student behavior had gotten so bad that one teacher described it as "chaos." She eventually quit in disgust, pulled her own child from the school, and moved to a different one 45 minutes away. John C is located in a rural stretch of South Carolina near the Georgia border where all but one of the major textile plants have closed, and where the leading local employer is the school system. Nearly 90 percent of the kids at John C live below the poverty line. When Nixon went to his first PTO meeting, only about a dozen parents showed up at a school with 226 students. He still has trouble reaching many families by phone because they can't afford to put down a deposit on a landline. And yet Nixon has managed to turn John C around. It recently earned three statewide Palmetto awards, one for academic performance and two for overall improvement—the school's first such honors in its 35-year history. Not everyone agrees with his methods, but most parents and teachers will tell you he couldn't have pulled off such a turnaround without his wooden paddle.

Still, the mere fact that it works hasn't made spanking kids any easier for Nixon, who's no fire-breathing traditionalist. He's 31, a brownish-haired beanpole with a soft-spoken but determined manner. Married, with an 8-month-old daughter, he taught agriculture to high-school students for six years but had no prior administrative experience. He studied animal science at Clemson, served as state president of the Future Farmers of America, and raised 50 head of beef cattle on his ranch. In 2006, a family friend called about an opening at John C. The school, he heard, was "kind of in bad shape," but he took the job anyway.

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