December 6, 2001
I read your article about eleven ideas for intervention. Please let me share two incidents. These both happened in Taiwan, where I was an English teacher. The first happened just after my students (five-year-olds) had returned from recess. They were back in the classroom, but had not yet settled down, and one boy was standing on his chair with his head out the window. I was just about to call the class to order when, to my shocked horror, my TA entered the room, walked directly to this boy, and closed the window, trapping his head. She held it there only a second, then opened it, and led him crying from the room. Stunned, I tried to conduct the class, thinking they would surely return shortly; but after some 20 minutes, they had not. I went looking for them (though I knew I should not leave my class alone, I saw no other option), and found them in a vacant classroom, the little boy kneeling on the floor still crying, the TA speaking to him in Chinese. Decisively, I picked him up and carried him back to class, and sat him down. It did not help; despite all my efforts to calm him, he continued crying, unresponsive, for another 20 minutes. I carried him t o the office, and later found him asleep in another vacant classroom. When I told my colleagues what had happened, one of the other teachers defended the TA's actions, saying that perhaps she did not realize what she was doing.
The second time was the same class. I and another teacher traded off, with me teaching his class on the days he taught mine. On a day he had my class (so I am told -- I did not see this), the principal came in at the very end, and saw some kids fooling around. She asked him who had been "bad," and, not wishing to single anyone out, he said at one time or another, they all had (which was true). That was where I came in. As I was in my next class of the day, I could see my students sitting perfectly still, with a TA coming in periodically to make sure they did not move, for 45 minutes. At that point, some of their parents came for them, so the principal said they would finish their punishment the next day. Sure enough, the next day, when they were supposed to be at recess, I found them again sitting perfectly still, in the same position as before. So, without a word, I sat down among them, in the same position, and did not move a muscle until the principal told them they were finished; she saw me doing this. It was not long after that I left my job; I just could not be party to such a school anymore.
The children's parents knew, and did nothing. In fact, I heard the other teachers tell me they had seen the parents themselves doing the same kinds of things.
November 11, 2001
Ever since I became an adult, I have been opposed to the corporal punishment of children -- much to the consternation of the rest of my family. This was a complete about-face from what I believed as an adolescent (when I was young and foolish). In the interest of improving my argument, I am interested in finding out more about the bases for opposing spanking; information I can use in further discussions with family and associates.
I am currently a substitute teacher in the state of Georgia. I have been fortunate not to see (yet) any spanking of students. However, your article "Using the bathroom is a right, not a privilege" certainly struck home. On my first day subbing, I shared a divided classroom with another teacher. At first, I followed my instincts, allowing students to go to the bathroom whenever they asked; but because they had to pass through the other teacher's section of the room, she came to tell me it was not the policy to allow this, as it disrupted her class. So, unthinkingly, I gave in and followed policy. Thank you for your article; if I am ever in that class again, I will stand up for what is right. And I will tell my students where to find the article, too.
For five months, I taught English in Taiwan, working mostly wive five-year-olds, some up to seven or eight years old. It was horrible -- my TA would abuse my students openly, and when I complained, my colleagues defended her. I even expressed a desire not to have a TA in the room, but she was sent in anyway, because I was not providing the degree of "discipline" my boss wanted. The hopelessness of the situation was made crystal clear when I determined to find out for certain exactly what my, and my students', rights were: when I went to a nearby university library, I realized I had no idea where to look -- I could not speak the language to ask for assistance, nor read the language to study the documents. That was the worst part -- knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do about the situation. My efforts at kindness toward my students seemed only to escalate the abusiveness of others. Finally, I had to leave, disgusted and heartbroken.
But quite apart from what goes on in schools, I am first and foremost opposed to corporal punishment in the home. I am offended when people make careful distinctions between the words "spank" and "beat," as if they were not just two degrees of the same action. And I would like your "No Spanking Zone" poster. Here is my address: