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Threat of punishment was powerful deterrent

I am one of 11 children and when I was a kid, my mother was fond of saying she would "knock us into next week" if we didn't behave. She never actually hit us, but the threat of being smacked so hard you would travel through time was very effective.

One of my aunts used to tell her kids she would "part their hair with a meat cleaver." My cousins are still alive, but the meat cleaver concept got their attention.

Today, if parents made such a statement, someone would call Child Protective Services and they would be on the 6 o'clock news. Children have rights today that weren't afforded to my generation. There has been a fundamental shift; it used to be that the parents always sided with the authorities, now they threaten lawsuits if their kid's self esteem is bruised.

My own children are incredulous when I tell them stories of being whacked by the good Sisters of Mercy. "Why didn't you call the police?" they ask. "You should have sued!" they say. I didn't have the luxury of private counsel and I'm quite sure the cops weren't going to haul away a nun.

Just last weekend an acquaintance who grew up on the East Side of Buffalo told me about a particularly inventive form of punishment meted out by a Felician nun. Back in kindergarten, some 50 years ago, this guy kissed the little girl sitting next to him, so sister tied him to the leg of his desk for the rest of the day.

No wonder we baby boomers are all messed up.

I certainly would never advocate a return to corporal punishment, but it does seem we have gone a bit too far the other way. I have talked with teachers who have been told never to use the word "no" in the classroom.

Student: "Can I stick a crayon in Tiffany's ear?"

Teacher: "Well, we should talk about that. How do you think Tiffany would feel about having a Crayola in the ear? Would that be a good thing?"

I know a preschool teacher who is forbidden to use the word "bad" in front of her students. So when little Timmy poops on the floor, she is supposed to say: "Now Timothy, when you poop on the floor it makes me very sad."

Personally, I would get a bucket of soapy water and make the little monster clean up his mess. I'd have the ACLU picketing my home.

And then there are the parent teacher conferences. The teachers are told to emphasize the positive. So if little Sammy Skullvoid is a sociopath who likes to intimidate his classmates, the teacher tells the parents: "Samuel has displayed some fine leadership skills. All the other kids do exactly what he says. He has marvelous powers of persuasion."

I would tell the parents that their kid is a menace and he not only scares the kids, he scares me. I would recommend some serious therapy before the little creep climbs up a bell tower and wipes out an entire village. I would not last long.

On the other hand, I have failed as a disciplinarian in my home. I had a teacher in grade school who used to tell us to quiet down or we would see the back of her hand. I never knew exactly what that meant, but I tried it out with my own kids. They just laughed at me.

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