Spoiling a Generation
When I was in school in the 1970s, I used to have a half-hour bus ride to school every day. I don’t remember the bus driver having to raise her voice in anger more than a few times over the course of nine years. There were no monitors on our bus, either – we simply behaved. Maybe we understood that distracting the person who currently held our lives in her hands was a bad idea, but I would guess it had more to do with how our parents were raising us.
At the beginning of every school year, my mom would walk me up to my teacher and give him or her permission to spank me if I was disobedient. This was around the time that corporal punishment was becoming anathema in the schools – though I know our principal wasn’t shy with his paddle when the occasion called for it. Most of the teachers accepted Mom’s permission with a friendly smile. I only recall one teacher – a young one who probably had only been teaching a year or two – reacting with shock. None of my teachers ever had to spank me or, for that matter, send me to the principal’s office to be disciplined.
I like to think that I was raised to be a decent kid and therefore never even thought of doing anything wrong. That’s not true, though. I weighed each decision I made against the possibility of getting a spanking. Most of the time, I came down on the side of caution. That caution kept me from making a lot of mistakes – shoplifting, fighting, and sex, for instance.
I’m not suggesting that life was a rosy sitcom filled with precocious scamps and Cosby-like adult mentors. There were kids who didn’t toe the line. My first boyfriend was one of “those” kids, and he cured me of bad boys at an early age. He’s the reason I know the principal wasn’t shy with the paddle. But, all in all, things were different then. If you got into a fight, the adults were going to separate you from your enemy, not throw a few punches of their own. If you mouthed off to a teacher or a bus driver and your parents found out about it, they punished you; they didn’t threaten to sue the school.
I remember the first time I heard an adult tell me – and a classroom full of kids my age – that we should tell a teacher if any adult was hurting us. I was so young that I remember wondering if my parents’ version of punishment – a leather belt to the backside – qualified as “hurting” me. As an adult, I can honestly say that just the threat of that belt kept me on the right path more than once.
This is what happens when we tell two generations of children that they have all the power: eventually, they believe it.