St. Augustine's Spankological Protocol

One of my favorite teachers in high school -- all the kids loved him -- was Mr. Richard Bonacquista. He was our Colorado History teacher -- no one could make Colorado history more entertaining -- and our baseball coach. In any case, one of the things he showed us from early first teaching days -- over in mining country in the southwest part of the state -- was a wooden paddle. Now, we didn't have corporal punishment at Douglas County High School. But apparently they had it over in Durango or what not. The paddle looked well worn and had been retired during his time there. Anyway, the way it worked was that adolescent boys who acted up were given an option. They could either take a swat with the paddle or, if they didn't want that, it was not problem. All they would do is call the employer of the boy's father and have him brought up out of the mine to take the boy home. The dad would lose his day's wages. For some reason, not a single boy took that option.

I thought of that when I read this New Orleans Times Picayune. It follows up on a piece Bobby looked at earlier this month. That story was about how Archbishop Gregory Aymond had forbidden the use of corporal punishment at St. Augustine High School. The piece was fascinating, but only told his side of the story, and hinted at larger social issues. Keep that in mind when you read this lede:

More than 500 students, parents and other supporters of St. Augustine High School's policy of using corporal punishment marched Saturday morning on an Archdiocese of New Orleans office to press their message with Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who has called on school officials to abandon the 60-year practice.

The protesters, who posted three requests on the locked doors of the archdiocese's Walmsley Avenue offices, called on the archbishop to issue a "public, unequivocal retraction ... of all statements linking St. Augustine disciplinary policies with violence, particularly in the New Orleans community." ...

Protesters on Saturday also demanded proof of the archbishop's claims that parents have complained about the paddling policy, along with evidence for a study that Aymond has cited to bolster his position.

The archbishop has said corporal punishment institutionalizes violence, runs counter to Catholic teaching and good educational practice, and violates local archdiocesan school policy.

Citing similar concerns, the Josephite trustees who founded and own the high school imposed a temporary paddling ban last year, in circumvention of local school board wishes.

The piece does a good job of covering the basics and wrangling the various complaints of people associated with the school. Many of them say the issue isn't even so much about the paddle as the rights of African-American parents to educate and discipline in the manner they see fit. But the story also has some interesting quotes from students who support corporal punishment. Then others weigh in:

Disciplinarian Sterling Fleury said the paddle is one of many corrective tools at the school. It is not used every day, he said, but it has value as an "immediate consequence."

Since the paddling policy was suspended, behavior problems among students have risen, said Dr. Michael Hunter, a physician for the football team. "There are more detentions, more suspensions and more dismissals," he said.

"I would hate to think it has anything to do with race," Hunter said. "If the paddle is not causing something detrimental, why take it away?"

Hunter, a 1974 alumnus, said he was raised by a single mother who knew that sending him to St. Augustine would "set me straight." The school is renowned for producing graduates who have gone on to become civic and professional leaders.

"Young black men are dying in the streets, and we are trying to break that cycle of violence by teaching morals, values and excellence," said Dwight McKenna, a physician and a 1958 alumnus. "Without St. Aug I don't know what would have happened to me. St. Aug taught me to be a man."

It's all very interesting and nicely written. And the religious and racial themes are developed through the piece. However, I'd like to know more about the specific Catholic arguments for and against corporal punishment and related issues (such as obeying the will of the archbishop). For outsiders such as myself, this is information I don't possess. I have my own biases with regard to corporal punishment, particularly outside the home, but I know the issue isn't as cut and dry as we sometimes make it out. For instance, I wrote about a study that showed that limited corporal punishment correlated positively with behavioral and academic outcomes. And religion certainly must affect views on the use and misuse of physical discipline. It would be nice to read more about how religion motivates the various sides in this conflict.

(For an explanation of the headline and art, see here.)

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