While riding on an airliner recently, I found myself seated behind a row of unescorted preteenagers who decided to play "Space Shuttle."
With maximum bad taste, they loudly pretended that the plane was crashing and rocked their seats violently into the knees of passengers behind them.
These children were behaving worse than any I had seen in a long time, even worse than a group of kids from Washington who not long ago hopped aboard the Metro subway and played rap music on their boogie boxes.
In both instances, nobody knew what to do about them. People fumed and frowned, whispered epithets and shook their heads in embarrassment and despair.
Some Metro riders eventually got up and left the train, cursing. You couldn't get off the airplane, but one man did ask the young boys if they would mind keeping their seats in a locked position. To which one of them responded by locking his seat in full recline, right up against the man's knees.
Now I ask you: What do we do about these mean-spirited, selfish children? Do you report them to their parents? The same people responsible for them being inconsiderate clods in the first place?
I say legalize corporal punishment, and make it possible for any responsible adult to beat the stuffings out of any ill mannered child.
Let's start in the obvious place: the home. For parents who don't care enough to discipline their own children, a new service should be established. Call it "Rent a Fist," in which hired disciplinarians make home visits to do the job. By written agreement with the parents, neighbors would be given permission to call in the service.
Next, the schools. Instead of being automatically expelled for possession of weapons or drugs, as is done in Prince George's County, any chump caught with a gun on school grounds would be pistol-whipped and any student caught with drugs would be flogged with a cat-o-nine-tails.
In the District of Columbia, where expulsions are forbidden, a student can be suspended for a maximum of l0 days. This may keep a student in school, but it does nothing to instill respect for the school.
Instead, students who commit misdeeds in District of Columbia schools should be forced to crawl through a gantlet of teachers who are flailing leafless oak tree limbs.
Other school systems would be allowed to adopt any of the above choices.
With so many young people traveling unattended these days, bus terminals and airline stewardess stations should be equipped with yard-long paddles, preferably the kind with holes drilled in them.
These disciplinary instruments would be displayed prominently in glass-fronted boxes marked, "Break in case of an emergency."
Now I can hear the psychologists and the social scientists already. It's better to use peer pressure than punishment to change a student's behavior, they say. Creative use of rewards and denial of favors would be more humane.
Besides, they add, there is no correlation between corporal punishment and good behavior.
They sound like folks who never watched anybody get a good beating, for therein is what makes corporal punishment work. Regardless of how much pain is inflicted, it is the act of being watched during the infliction that makes corporal punishment one of the most humiliating experiences in the world and thus one that even the nastiest child will seek to avoid.
This other stuff about denying favors is too vague. So what if Johnny can't go on the field trip? He probably didn't want to go anyway. But getting his butt set on fire, well, that's something else altogether.
Discipline among young people on our streets, in our schools - and now on our airlines - is in serious decline.
As far as schools are concerned, some say the issue is the balance of the rights of the accused wrongdoers with the rights of teachers and students who want safe, orderly schools.
I say those who don't want safe, orderly schools don't have the right to be on school grounds. And if they get caught there, they should be severely punished.