Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

AT LARGE: Many Southerners Don't Spare the Rod

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

AT LARGE: Many Southerners Don't Spare the Rod

Article excerpt

I was a rebellious, often unruly child. Consequently, I was often in need of discipline.

Accordingly, my parents, usually my mother, would resort to blows with the open hand, with the switch and, rarely, even with the belt.

Their punishment never reached the level of true child abuse and certainly never left anything like the wounds inflicted on his 4- year-old son by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, whose arrest for beating his child has prompted a national discussion of corporal punishment.

Fellow Alabamian Charles Barkley was only partially correct when he said that for the majority of blacks from the South of a certain age, getting a "whipping" was, and probably still is, simply a fact of life. Partially, because it also has been the experience of the vast majority of whites raised in the South, especially in the 1950s and '60s.

But it was not just in the home where physical punishment was meted out. It was commonplace in schools in the South, as well.

I remember my experience attending Pittman Junior High School in Hueytown, a blackboard jungle institution if ever there was one.

Built for about 300 or so students, enrollment at Pittman had ballooned to more than 700 by 1960, overwhelming the resources of the block of forlorn suburban real estate it occupied just down the street from the Methodist parsonage where I resided with my parents and two brothers.

The main building, a drab, square affair dating back to the 1920s, was jam-packed, forcing the school to expand to include a couple of small houses the school board had commandeered on the adjoining property. There were even makeshift classrooms tucked under the seats of the school's football stadium, creating classrooms whose slanting ceilings were 6 feet high at one end of the room and 30 feet high at the other.

Not a blade of grass grew on the campus, so overrun was it with students.

Such an atmosphere of deprivation bordering on despair -- I will never forget the embattled elderly principal wandering the hallways silent and despondent -- tended to breed anarchy among the students and to prompt violence from the teachers, especially the coaches. …

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