Paddling Panic

Feb 26, 2011 by

One by one, alumni of St. Augustine High School took the microphone on Thursday (Feb. 24), recalling one paddling at the hands of a St. Augustine teacher that turned them around and taught them a lesson.

The 60-year-old tradition of corporal punishment at St. Augustine — believed to be one of the few remaining Catholic schools in the country that still paddles — faces a potential end.

Alumni aimed their impassioned defense of corporal punishment at New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, whose concern about the policy prompted the Josephite order that founded the school to suspend paddling for the current school year.

This one’s been nagging at me since Q93’s Wild Wayne put the question of whether corporal punishment (CP) should continue at St. Aug out to Twitter folks.  Responses to his query have ranged from “no, it’s 2011” to “it’s worked for St. Aug, and it’s a private school, let ’em do what they want” – to “parents should be doing that, not the schools” to “parents know what they’re getting their kids into when they send them there”.  A link is listed to Eddie Francis’ defense of CP at St. Aug, which states:

The paddle teaches that for every action, there is a reaction and for every transgression, there is a price to pay.  The paddle establishes the alpha male relationship that every teenage boy needs from his elders.  St. Augustine High School never asked for anyone’s permission to achieve greatness, and it should not have to ask now.  Greatness is born of discipline.  Archbishop Aymond’s unfortunate interference in the school’s business is a clear message that he does not understand how the unique brand of St. Aug greatness has been cultivated for 60 years.

It’s tough to argue with greatness, indeed.

It’s also tough to separate how much CP contributes to that greatness from how much our own attitudes towards any kind of rod on our children may contribute to those perceptions.  These days, hitting any child is grounds for, at the very least, a serious questioning of parental judgment – at the most, calling Child Protective Services.  If parents are mightily looked down upon for trying to keep their kids in line like this, one thought might be why not outsource it? Pass that burden on to the educators. It’s easier to do here, as Louisiana is one of the only states that still allows CP in all its schools, with a 2009 bill for repeal failing to make its way out of the state House cementing the CP status quo for the time being.

My thoughts on all of this: repulsion. Suddenly the “it takes a village” argument in raising a child is being used to defend this.  The way alumni have been defending the practice, St. Aug’s results are apparently due to the successful use of a piece of wood notorious for being used in fraternity initiations, which demeans the good work the school’s instructors do in shaping the minds of those young men.  And I also can’t stop thinking of something David K. Shipler noted in his A Country of Strangers: that corporal punishment in black homes was a measure meant to keep black children in line in a racist, segregated world that was ready to jump on blacks if they tried to stray from out of their “place”.  If that was also a reason why CP was a part of St. Aug’s traditions, why does it need to continue on that level in a world that, legislatively, doesn’t resemble the world in 1951?

We can do better than this is all I’m saying.

Then again, this is a private school. Legislatively, St. Aug isn’t doing anything wrong. Considering the battles members of the Catholic flock in New Orleans have been fighting to keep their churches open – with the most memorable and vociferous being the fight for St. Augustine – it’s only understandable that hackles will be raised here.  Raising and educating children is a tough, hard thing.  I simply hope that everybody looks beyond the same old ways to see what is really best for the kids.


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