Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Paddle

I am reposting one from September 2010.  You may have heard of the Kansas bill that would allow spanking to the point of bruising.  it reminded me of this painful little story and a brutal school administrator.
Years ago, when Heidi was getting her doctorate, I was a second grade teacher in a fairly traditional school on the south side of Indianapolis, Indiana. Now, I must admit, here in South Carolina we have our public relations problems. 

We have our list of PR problems all right, but Indiana has had some issues of its own. In 1986, the last year I taught in Decatur Township, Indiana, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the high school lawn.  Acquaintances of mine (not friends) used the n-word regularly and in the name of racial harmony, African American school children from Kindergarten-age on were bussed one hour each way to and from the north side of Indianapolis to our little district. There were plenty schools in need of integration much closer. 

Sadly, important decisions about education often fell on the shoulders of people far removed from classrooms and the daily life of students. I guess that still is true.

A strong woman principal hired me at Lynwood Elementary School. She had wonderful educational background and was a graduate student herself at IU. I had heard wonderful things about her and was anxious to begin working at her school.

She and I had issues from the start. For one thing, we carpooled together which led to lots of problems. She shared information about other teachers with me that made me uncomfortable. It made me wonder what kinds of details she shared about me to others. For another thing, she was a heavy smoker. This was back in the early to mid 80’s and smoking was pretty much accepted everywhere. There weren’t any NO SMOKING sections in restaurants and there were no smoking bans in public buildings. People routinely smoked in each other’s houses and cars. Few people ever even thought to ask permission. Since she was my principal, and therefore my boss, I didn’t feel like I had much choice in the matter. I certainly wouldn’t ask her to not smoke in her car and I didn’t feel brave enough for the first year we travelled together to ask her not to smoke in mine.

It became clear the more we got to know each other that we were VERY far apart on important educational issues. While she was well read and had some of my favorite professors on her doctoral committee, it was clear from the start that our ideas about what was in the best interest of children were very different. During that first year, she became very concerned about our test scores. So concerned that she was putting programs before children. She humiliated teachers in public and was seen by many of the teachers as a tyrant. She did have one quality that appealed to many teachers – she paddled. Pretty liberally too. I’m not sure if she saw it as a way to win back some of her dwindling support from the staff, or if she honestly thought that a good swift paddling made a positive impact (pardon the pun) on the lives of students, but she was quick and fierce with a paddle.

While I would not say that parents shouldnever paddle their children (we have managed to never spank our children – and frankly – it is too late now since they could easier paddle us) I feel strongly that paddling should not be a tool in public schools. That should be left up to parents. The more we got to know each other, the more my principal and I disagreed. We rode together for almost an hour about four times each week so we had a lot of time to talk about education and children. And, by the second year that we worked together her smoking in my car was driving me nuts. Every time she lit up in my car I rolled down my window. She never seemed to notice. It may have been immaturity on my part, but I became less and less tolerant of her smoking in my little subcompact car (I rocked a Chevette for many years).

Finally about half way through my second year teaching with her I asked, as politely as I could, if she would stop smoking in my car. I tried to be diplomatic, but to a person who smokes a pack or two each day, an hour, twice a day, is a long time to go without a smoke. If she were going to ride in my car, which she did two or three times every week, she would have to refrain from smoking for those two hours each day.
You can imagine how hard that became. She began criticizing my lesson plans, made more unannounced visits to the classroom and called me out more often in faculty meetings. And the rides in my car… She hated the music I put in the tape player, the radio stations I chose were too mainstream, my car was too small. Looking back, it probably was a dirty trick to ask her to quit smoking in my car. It wasn’t like I was allergic and it was before we knew the dangers of second hand smoke.It was a petty thing on my part but once I asked her to stop I couldn’t bring myself to allow it again. She started driving herself more and more often. Fine by me.

Toward the end of my second year there I had some issues that caught her attention. I had never sent a child to the principal’s office for any reason. If there was a possibility that I could solve discipline or homework issues with the student or with the parents, I did. I never saw a need to get the principal involved. In some ways sending a child to the principal’s office would be giving away my authority, perhaps sending a signal to the child that I wasn’t capable of handling a situation. It was just my style to deal with things on my own.

One day a child in my room, Brandon, came back from related arts and told me that he was paddled for what he had done in PE. He said that it was for laughing and talking out of turn. I was frustrated and sorry for him. I asked if they had called his mom from the office and told her. She was a single parent. He said that she had not been called. So I wrote a brief note home, letting her know what had happened.

The next day my principal came to me in the morning fuming. She had gotten a call from Brandon’s mom about the paddling and was angry with me that I had not checked with her first. As it turned out, Brandon had not been paddled. For some reason, probably just to get attention, he had simply made that story up. She was furious that I had not checked with the office to corroborate his story. I was on her bad list now more than ever! In an effort to make sure that a parent was notified of her child being paddled, a policy I openly disagreed with, I had messed up by not checking to see if that little rascal was lying to me.

I knew I was going to have to pay the price with her. I figured that she would “write me up” and put a letter in my file about insubordination or something. She would probably make me the subject of a faculty meeting. I was worried most about the tongue lashings I would get during the times we would carpool together while she was going through nicotine withdrawal. It wasn’t going to be pretty.
“You know he’ll have to be paddled for this, don’t you?” she said to me with a gleam in her eye. I didn’t follow her reasoning. “We are just going to have to teach him how wrong it is to lie.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I argued. “You are angry because he said he was paddled and he wasn’t? Now you want to paddle him?”
“Not at all,” she said simply, “I am angry because a little second grader pulled the strings of so many adults. He lied to you, he made his mother angry with Craig (the PE teacher) and he made me looked bad. A second grader shouldn’t be able to do that. He needs to be taught a lesson!”

“I am the one you are angry with. It was my mistake for not checking with you," I said in utter disbelief. "I refuse to paddle a second grader just for being dishonest. It isn’t serious enough to justify that kind of punishment!”

“Oh, don’t worry about that.” She said it with the kind of sympathetic patience that one shows to someone who is slow or very young. I’m going to do the paddling. And you will be the witness. Two whacks should do it.”

I knew what she was doing. It was her way of punishing me for what I had done. I disagreed with her openly about a lot of things. I didn’t teach to the high stakes test, I played with my students at recess and came in all sweaty; I didn’t let her smoke in my car. And, while she was my principal, I never gave her the feeling that she was the boss of me. Now she was getting even. And it was my fault. 

Brandon was at fault too, he did lie for whatever bizarre reason, but there was no mistake, it was memy principal was really angry with. Brandon was collateral damage.

There is no happy ending to this story. Brandon was just a little boy. He was the smallest child in my class. Brandon got two licks. They were brutal too. She used a hard wooden paddle made for this specific purpose. I signed the witness form and had to watch as she made him bend over and grab the arm of her chair. The first whack was extremely hard. I was shocked. Brandon screamed. I think even my principal was surprised at her own strength with that first lick. He put his hands over his sore butt and cried until he was hoarse, his eyes filled with tears and fear. “Don’t you think that’s enough?” I pleaded softly.

“I said two and it’s going to be two,” she said without emotion. Brandon would not cooperate. “If you don’t move your hands and bend over by the time I count to three it will be two more licks,” she warned him.“You’d better not think I’m kidding.” Terrified, Brandon did bend over and grab the arm of her chair before she counted three. She landed another blow on his bottom – not quite as hard as the first. She looked at me with grim satisfaction as I took Brandon by the hand and we headed back to class. Brandon and I were broken as we walked slowly down the linoleum-tiled hallway. Our heads were down and both of us were crying.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You did lie, but I got you into this mess.”

“That’s OK, Mr. O,” he said. His voice was still hitching from crying. “It’s not your fault.” He didn’t really understand just how much it was my fault.
During the last year we worked in the same school, my principal and I didn’t ride together very much. She had too many after school duties she said. That was just fine. Heidi and I were broke with her in grad school and me working so far away from where we lived. But I didn’t care about the extra gas. My principal and I never had much to say to each other after that. We had lost each other’s respect and I was counting down the days in that last year until we moved to South Carolina.

When I write memoir I am usually left thinking about the lives of the people in my little stories. This story is no exception. I think of little Brandon from time to time and wonder if he remembers that day which was so traumatic for both of us. I have totally lost track of that principal. I wonder how many children she paddled over the years. I wonder if she thinks that paddling made a positive difference in the lives of those children.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Plump? Juicy?

Sometimes false advertising is just so blatant, so in your face, so... wrong, that you have to speak out.

I was eating my Raisin Bran cereal the other day.  I went all out and bought the name brand because I was trying to get Heidi to eat a healthier breakfast.  I usually buy the store brand - formally known as "generic".  But Heidi would never try that.  So, I threw caution to the wind and bought the expensive stuff.  Yes, I love her that much.  It tastes pretty close to the same.

Hero image

Now if you eat cereal with any kind of fruit already in it, you know it's kind of gross.  There is no way to pack it in with a bunch of dried flakes and not have the moisture sucked out of it.

Different cereal companies have tried to figure ways around this problem.  Special K With "Red Berries", for example.  These RED BERRIES are freeze dried strawberries.  Not sure why they had to give them the mysterious alias.  They're crunchy.  They get a little mushy if they are stewed in your milk for a while.  They don't taste bad.  They just taste a little weird. Not much like fresh strawberries.  Maybe that's why they were given the RED BERRIES code name.  Not much like the real deal.

So when you pour raisin bran into your bowl, you don't expect them to be all soft.  You don't expect them to taste like the raisins right out of a box of SUN MADE raisins.  They're extra dehydrated. You know they are going to be hard and chewy- something like sweet little bits of leather, although they do sort of break down with enough chewing.

Kellogg’s Raisin Bran®

The classic, delicious balance of crispy, wheat bran flakes and plump, juicy raisins never ceases to make morning amazing.Visit

Here's the rub - how do they have the unmitigated gall to call them plump and juicy?  They are neither.  I get that if you advertised two scoops of hard leathery raisins you might not have many takers.  But plump and juicy are about as far from the facts as you can get.

I want to just ask, "In whose reality are these hard, chewy things sprinkled throughout my cereal bowl really plump or juicy?"  I realize that there must be a few molecules of water left in these raisin skins.

But plump?  Juicy?  No way.  Isn't there some governmental agency that oversees the careless use of adjectives in advertising?  Someone isn't doing his/her job.

Besides isn't the definition of a plump juicy raisin - a grape?

Monday, February 17, 2014

20 Signs You Grew Up In Catholic School - Reposted

I am totally reposting this from someone else's blog.  (   It's funny, ironic, sad - somewhat true.  While I think everyone's experiences in any school is different from all others, I must admit there are some serious similarities to the thoughts listed below and those I remember about my early memories of Saints Peter and Paul Elementary School in Merrillville, Indiana in the 1960's.

When I was a little guy (first through third grade) we had to fast every day before communion.  We couldn't eat anything from midnight on until Mass.  Since we had Mass every day before school, that meant no breakfast until after church.  And the Mass in those days was said in Latin.  So there were hundreds of us, living through a pretty long service, in a language we didn't understand.  I mean we knew when to kneel and stand and we knew the Latin responses - not that any of it was probably understandable to anyone who really spoke Latin.  We were not given a homily (sermon) on weekdays, thank God.  We got our sermonizing in the classrooms.  

One day I had a particularly upset stomach while sitting in Mass.  I was in second grade.  I mean my stomach was really sore.  It was close to the end of mass.  I remember thinking I just needed to get out of there and get some air and I'd be all right.  But there was no way.  Sister Rachael Marie would be so angry if I tried to squeeze my way past all those kids and leave.  Nope, I'd have to stick it out.  No matter the consequence.

The consequence was I barfed what was left of my previous night's dinner all over the pew and the kid next to me.  Tuna casserole I think it was.  All I could think of was that Sister Rachael Marie was going to kill me for making that mess.  

20 Signs You Grew Up in Catholic School

20 signs you went to catholic school
There is a blog post floating around Facebook these days called 20 Signs You Grew Up A Church Kid. After 12-years of Catholic school I didn’t understand most of them.  Apparently growing up in Catholic school is just not the same as growing up a church kid. They had fun Jesus learning with Mr.Psalty, and we had just plain old nun-ification. With the help of three of my lovely former-plaid skirted friends, I came up with my own!
Let’s get this party started. Are you ready? Cause just like your first two hour mass, it’s going to be a loooong ride.
1. You at one point compared who got the “better” ash mark on their head from Ash Wednesday. Really they all looked like splotchy finger prints, but it kept you busy at recesses comparing noggins.
colored socks
2. You feel like a rebel when you wear colored socks. Oh yeah, now that you are out, no regulation white ankle or crew socks for you! Blue! Pink! Black! The world is your stage when it comes to sock color because you know how to party.
Peace be with you
3. When someone says “peace be with you” you say “also with you” without thinking. It’s true. The years of training sunk in, and there is no letting go.
The moment a boy walks into an all-girls school...mine?mine?mine?
4. While you tell everyone that going to an all-girls school helped you focus on school and made you more intelligent, you secretly know it also made you more desperate and socially awkward. It’s sad, and pretty embarrassing, but true.
Oh there's boys! I have to give a crap what I look like!
5. You secretly miss having your clothes picked out for you 5 out of 7 days in the week. Life was easier when you were forced to wear a uniform…unless you wear a uniform for your job…then you are probably thinking  “when is my free dress day???”
Class of kids
6.  You still remember the names of 30 kids you spent 8 years with…their parents, and siblings too.  Aaaah, elementary school. Sure a couple kids came and went, but you got to know this core group well. You battled teachers, started puberty, and all sat through mass every Tuesday together. These are ties no graduation can break.
kid playing with a ball
7. You still feel like you need say your prayer before a meal really, really fast, so you can get to recess faster. Because saying the words like you had a espresso, redbull and some crack all at the same time counts as a “real prayer” when you are starving and need that pudding cup…right? 
8. You were shocked after you graduated to find out there were other translations of the Bible than the New American Version. NIV! ESV! IHSYESYGGLSO! Okay, that last one isn’t a translation that I know of but there are so many options out there! If you decided to stay or go back to the Christian life after graduation you were probably met with some confusion when you went to the Christian book store and was met with the aisles of different translations.
Authors note: This originally cited (wrongly) the King James translation, which isn’t approved by the Catholic church.  I have since had some coffee, woke up a bit, and changed it. 
kids dressed up as lambs
(A special shout out the Mountain Mama Teaching blog for this photo!)
9. You’ve been dressed up like an angel, a sheep, and a shepherd at least once (but probably three) times as a child. Don’t lie. Your mother has photos.
kids singing
10. …and you had to sing. A LOT. On top of the school pageants and usual fair, you had the special church events that they used your class singing off key like some secret choir reserve force when the old ladies got sick. It was probably just a plot to actually get your parents to mass every once and a while.
11. When at any non-catholic church or the train station, your right knee automatically buckles anytime you enter a pew, and you have to stop yourself from kneeling. Again, it’s true.
Jesus holding a candy bar
12. You know how to fundraise and sell stuff like a boss. Whether you went to one of the “rich kids” Catholic schools or the “very much not rich kids” schools, either way they had you out pimping cookie dough, magazine subscriptions, wrapping paper, and coupon books every year. That pizza party just became less worth the trouble as time went on.
sign of the cross
13. Your non-Catholic friends think doing the sign of the cross is some complicated secret handshake and keep asking you to show them how to do it over and over. It really is a secret sign that makes you get the good wafers at communion. Ya know, the ones that don’t taste like cardboard.
Ghost sitting in church pew
14.  There was always some rumor about a dead saint body part, haunted room, or scary secret tradition (saying Bloody Mary into a mirror) at your church…that you totally bought. Admit it. You believed!
Teen dance in the 60's
15. You know what “leave room for the Holy Spirit means.” One foot apart with only arms touching is the only way to slow dance and keep Jesus happy.
drawing of kid confessing to a priest
16. You totally made up a sin during your first confession with a priest because you were in the first grade and didn’t understand what the heck was going on.  Your friend even said adultery, because it sounded cooler than cheating or thinking bad thoughts against your parents, and no one was smart-assy enough yet to just say murder.
17. You dreaded stations of the cross day. It was long, you had to sit in a hard pew, and most of the time you couldn’t see action or hear the person speaking. So you just sat there. For all eternity.
Nuns holding guns
18.  You have strong feelings about nuns. ‘Nuff said. 
May crowning
19. You are still bitter that you were not picked to play Mary during May Crowning or Jesus in the Last Supper. Only the coolest kids, and teachers favorites got those roles. Not little old you. It’s still hurtful to talk about.
Catholic school is like combat, unless you've been there. You don't know.
20. You talk more (aka are more traumatized) about your elementary school experience than anyone else who went to public school. It’s an experience that forever changed you. There was good, there was bad, there was just odd…but in the end you survived.