The Paddle in the School: Tool or Weapon- The Case of Pittsburgh Public Schools
On October 21, 1975, the Pittsburgh Board of Education had before it a proposal from a board subcommittee to reinstitute corporal punishment in the Pittsburgh public schools, where a total ban had been in effect since 1973. The Pittsburgh school board frequently votes on corporal punishment. While other school districts have reviewed paddling from time to time in the past hundred years, Pittsburgh has reviewed it six times in the past eight years. By coincidence, the Supreme Court had just ruled on a corporal punishment case earlier that same month. The only effect of that decision on the Pittsburgh schools was to delay the board vote until November when they decided to keep the ban.
I first saw a school paddle when I taught in a Pittsburgh school. I was asked to be a witness to a beating. To my surprise the teacher swung with all of her might at a small fourth grade boy whom I knew and whom I had never known to be in any trouble. He braced himself against a heavy desk so he would not fall flat on his face when she slammed him five times with the standard thirty-six-inch paddle. I don't know what the boy had done. The teacher straightened up as she finished, puffing and winded from the exertion, and explained authoritatively that this was an approved procedure, just so you had a witness. She was wrong of course: our board of education rule then stated that this procedure was supposed to be done in the office by the principal or vice principal, or by the teacher in the presence of the principal or vice principal, or by the teacher in the presence of the principal. Its use by teachers in the classroom had long been forbidden. Neither I nor anyone else in that school seemed to know the exact rule, but in spirit the board regulation had said that hitting was right if it was done right, so the teacher wasn't too far off base.
First published in Pitt, Vol. 31, no. 3, Feb. 1977.