“Bend Over. Grab Your Ankles.”

corporal punishment (noun): punishment administered by an adult (as a parent
or a teacher) to the body of a child ranging in severity from a slap to a spanking.

For no apparent reason, I recently found myself wondering about the state of corporal punishment within the American educational system.  I grew up in a time when corporal punishment was a well accepted and oft administered practice, the exercise of which could be found in nearly every school teacher’s tool kit for maintaining order, decorum, and a focus on learning in their classrooms.

I wish I could say that I was surprised, when after a conducting a quick Google search on the topic, I learned that corporal punishment is not only discouraged in today’s overly litigious society, but that it has now been declared to be illegal in 22 states.  Such a shame; for it worked so well.

ShopThe autumn of 1966 found me enrolled in my junior high school’s Industrial Arts class.  Industrial Arts, more commonly known as “Shop“, was on virtually every boy’s short list of elective classes to take.  It being the course in which one learned the basics of woodworking, along with the use of table saws, band saws, lathes, drill presses, and belt sanders.  Before being turned lose in the shop, the curriculum at my school included six weeks of technical drawing or drafting.   This was a necessary prerequisite to flipping the switch on a band saw because we were required to create a detailed three-dimensional orthographic design of each item which we planned to create.

By now, you’re probably wondering what does this have to do with corporal punishment.  Let me explain.

It was a Friday, the last day of school before the beginning of the 1966 Christmas holiday break.  I was in Industrial Arts class, sitting at my drafting table in the classroom which adjoined the woodworking shop.  A good friend of mine, let’s call him John, was sitting at his drafting table just to my right.  Both of our tables were in the front row.  As class began, our instructor Mr. Carpenter, no pun intended, walked into the classroom from the shop and promptly told everyone to pass their completed homework up to the front.

Being a keen observer, Mr. Carpenter noticed that my friend John was not pulling the required paperwork out of his notebook.  “Where’s your homework, John?”  Mr. Carpenter inquired.

I don’t have it.”  replied John with eyes cast down at the work on his drafting table which suddenly had become of the utmost importance.   

“You don’t have it, or you didn’t do it?”  asked Mr. Carpenter unwilling to leave the subject at hand. 

“Uh, well I, um, … didn’t do it.”   

“Hmm? ”  replied Mr. Carpenter as he finished picking up the papers which had been passed to the front of the class.  We all could feel the slight yet unmistakable tingle of electricity in the air.  We all knew that on the weekends, Mr. Carpenter participated in rodeo events.  As such, we all were quite certain that he didn’t believe in taking “Bull” from anyone.

Mr. Carpenter walked over to his desk, dropped the homework papers, and instructed us to continue working on our drafting assignment.  He turned slowly, paused theatrically for a moment, briefly looking directly at John before walking to the door leading out into the woodworking shop.  The top half of that door contained a window which was normally closed from view by a venetian blind.  As Mr. Carpenter proceeded through the door, he nonchalantly pulled down on the string opening the blinds as the door closed behind him.

By pure happenstance, my drafting table was the only one in the classroom which provided a view into the shop.

John motioned to me and under his breath whispered, “What’s he doing out there?”

I glanced out the window.  I could see Mr. Carpenter standing at a large rack on which wood was stored.

“He’s picked up a piece of 1″X6″ about four feet long and is looking at it to make sure it’s straight.”  I replied.

As small drops of nervous perspiration began to appear on John’s brow, Mr. Carpenter walked over to the table saw, flipping the switch to turn it on.  Startled by the raspy, metallic sound of the saw coming to life, John gasped “Oh damn!  What’s he doing now?”

From that point, and for most of the 45 minutes remaining in that class period, I provided John and my classmates with a running commentary on Mr. Carpenter’s activities out in the shop.  With the table saw, he cut a piece of the 1″X6″ pine to a length of about 18 inches.  Mr. Carpenter’s actions were very slow and methodical.  While I never noticed him looking back into the classroom through the window in the door, I’m confident that he was totally aware that his every step was being duly noted and carefully reported to his charges in the drafting room.

Next he walked over to the band saw.  John’s body convulsed again as the band saw began to whine.  When I realized what was happening, I reported that it appeared that a handle had been shaped on to one end of the 18 inch board.  A sigh of total despondency slowly escaped from John.

Using the belt sander, Mr. Carpenter very carefully sanded the board and its handle; rounding and smoothing the edges around its entire perimeter.  Then it was over to the drill press, where a series of holes were drilled through the rectangular portion of the wood above it’s handle.

After giving his work a thorough visual examination, Mr. Carpenter took the device by its handle and quickly slapped it once or twice against the palm of his other hand, the sharp stinging sound of which seemed to awaken us all from a trance.  Suddenly, we realized that there were only 5 minutes left in the period.

Slowly, Mr. Carpenter opened the door.  “John, ….. can you step out here for a moment?”  Realizing that the statement was a command rather than a question, John stood and very deliberately walked out of the classroom and into the shop.  None of us were willing to make eye contact with John.
As the door closed, Mr. Carpenter led him into an area of the shop which even I could not observe.  In the drafting room, you could have heard a pin drop.  As we all sat at our desks, eyes fixed on our three-dimensional orthographic drawings, we heard the unmistakable “Thwack!”  of pine meeting rear end, followed in slow succession by two additional “Thwacks!”

Judgement had been decided.  Justice had been served.  All homework was completed for the remainder of that year!

As we filed out of class that day, Mr. Carpenter, paddle stored under his arm, wished us all a Merry Christmas.

“You too, Mr. Carpenter.  Merry Christmas to you.”


Photo credit: chazferret Foter CC BY-NC
Photo credit: buzzle.com

16 thoughts on ““Bend Over. Grab Your Ankles.”

  1. Loved your story. It rang a few familiar bells.
    I get the feeling, though, that you may have omitted a piece about, maybe, some tacks left, accidentally, on a certain teacher’s chair.
    Or perhaps we do not speak of such things…

  2. Great post! As I was reading this, I was reminded of my parent’s stories of corporal punishment when they went to school in Mexico.

  3. What a flashback! I went to a private school here in Florida and will not mention any names. But I remember the nuns having paddles and slapping the fingers of the children who misbehaved and those who were really bad were taken into another room for their punishment. I am not a believer in hitting children, adults, animals or anything for that matter. Stayed out of trouble in school because I did not want to feel the burn. Thanks for the story.

  4. Reading that post sent chills down my spine (and memories.) Our teachers were always prepared with a ‘Mr Wacko’ ready and available in all classes. To have to go through the making of it – well I don’t even want to go there.

    • I agree. The case I wrote about, although rare in the annals of applied corporal punishment, did take place exactly as I described it. The bottom line (no pun intended) was that John was no worse for wear after the event and did stay on top of his homework thereafter. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I like your comment ‘John was no worse the wear after the event.”
    I was raised with a principal for a father and teacher for a mother. The norm was a single smack on the rear enc or a smack on the hand with a ruler and my parents policed themselves, making sure the other spouse never spanked the children when they were mad and likely to hit out of anger rather than thoughtful discipline . I believe I benefited much from having been spanked rather than being grounded and sent to my room to brood for days like many of my friends were. Being the brooding type and prone to self injury by 15 I probably would have done something terrible if sent to my room to be alone rather than getting things taken care of quickly and upfront.

    • Thanks for your comments. I’ve never been a believer in the “time out” philosophy of discipline. It’s way too passive for me. Corporal punishment, correctly applied, causes neither harm nor pain to its recipient, but can certainly lead to behavior modification.

  6. Hmm.
    Your post certainly triggered some nostalgia for me.
    I went to one of those Scottish boarding schools where cold baths and regular CP (bend over and touch your toes, boy!) were considered essential pedagogical tools, The trouble was, the accompanying attitude was that boys were stupid, evil and always on the verge of insurrection.
    The most common crime for which I received my “six of the best” was “cheek”.
    “Cheek” seemed to be defined as anything clever said by a boy to a master. Unlimited traffic of that kind in the reverse direction was of course considered to be evidence of the superior wit of the master.
    Do I think it harmed me? Yes, of course I do.
    (I’m saying nothing about CP in general, only CP as I experienced it.)
    I remember I usually got it at lunchtime, and when I had limped back to my desk afterwards trying not to cry in front of my classmates, my eyes were blurry because I felt humiliated and helpless. And angry.
    One important result was that I learned to police my thoughts and my feelings to make sure they were acceptable. I learned to distance myself from other boys, because someone was always willing to report me for some unguarded comment. I learned not to tell anyone what I lked because once they knew that, they had something to take away. I kept mum about what I disliked because I could always be given more of that.
    I remember too, Miss Fraser, a thoughtful, rather hard-faced lady who taught mathematics. One day I said or did something that would surely have earned a “sixer” from any master (especially from the 22 year-old psychpaths just out of Gordonstoun)
    Miss Fraser invited me to her room (a bed-sit closet next to the boiler room) and sat me down on her bed, sitting herself at the desk, very close. The converstion went something like:

    “Do you know why I have asked you here?”
    “Yes, Miss Fraser.”
    “Do you have anything to say?”
    “I’m very sorry, Miss Fraser.”
    “Do you think it likely we will have a chat like this ever again?”
    “No, Miss Fraser. I promise we won’t.”
    “Good. See we don’t.”

    And we didn’t.
    Did I ever spank my kids? Yes. Once.
    That’s a subject for a whole new post. . .

  7. I stumbled upon this post researching my father who died in 1981. May I ask where you went to school? My father was Mr. Carpenter, who taught Industrial Arts in the 60’s and early 70’s. I was born in 1968. Though I also grew up in the time of paddling in schools, ironically, my father never spanked me. If your Mr. Carpenter was indeed my father, I am so very sorry that he treated his students that way. He was a gentle and patient man at home. I do believe he would have taken his time, oh so calmly, to create the paddle though. For that reason, I am afraid that your Mr. Carpenter may in fact be the same Mr. Carpenter. A humbling discovery, indeed.

    • If your father didn’t ride in rodeo events on weekends, then we are referring to a different person.

      On your other point, in my humble opinion, the proper application of corporal punishment is in no way the mistreatment of students or children in general. It is quite the contrary.

      Thanks for your comments.

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