Letters To The Editor
Your recent treatment of corporal punishment in Florida ("Floridians Don't Spare the Rod, But Some Now Say They Should," Education Week, Sept. 18, 1983) left me with the distinct notion that corporal punishment and "capital" punishment are being considered as one and the same.
I have spent all but five years of my life in the Florida public-school system, both as a student and as an educator. I received corporal punishment first from the dear old lady who taught 1st grade and later from the high-school coach who served as assistant principal.
As Robert Blume [professor of education at the University of Florida and president of the Association for Humanistic Education, who was quoted in the article] mentioned, I also felt a "climate of fear" about school--fear that my father would discover that I had needed any type of punishment and that he would reinforce the school's discipline at home. In spite of my many spankings--which were not severe enough to stop even mild misbehavior--I have fond memories of my school days. Student paddlings were expected by parents and students alike and many of us experienced visits to the "cloakroom" for a "good spanking"; I don't remember any "bad spankings."
Today, in our 1,200-student school, corporal punishment is administered daily in accordance with Florida law. Corporal punishment is considered suitable for minor offenses and is not an "option" for drug-related problems or other serious criminal activities. (Much more serious punishment is available, such as suspension or even expulsion. However, these are much more nonviolent and do not provoke as many liability judgments against administrators as do spankings.)
Teachers may punish students or they may refer them to the principal's office. All teachers are encouraged to try several methods of discipline prior to resorting to severe measures that may result in loss of class time and disruption of the teacher's normal activity--teaching.
Most new students, especially those from states where the corporal-punishment laws are less strongly applied, express positive acceptance of our policy. Their parents support this procedure, too.
My children now attend the same public schools that I attended as a child. I expect my children to behave in school. If they don't, they receive corporal punishment and get reinforcement from me if I find out about the disciplinary actions. I know of alternatives available and I know my children receive the alternatives when they are appropriate.
I am grateful that my youngest child will graduate before 1990, the target date for elimination of corporal punishment from Florida classrooms. However, my grandchildren may bear the brunt of the proposed elimination of corporal punishment.
I predict that the administration of corporal punishment will continue in both homes and schools because students, parents, and educators will remember the "hickory stick" with a special fondness, and because they will demand, through their elected officials, that home-type discipline be carried to the schools in a legal, controlled manner.
Ernest Spiva Jr. Principal Everitt Junior High School Panama City, Fla.
Eureka! Finally, a civil libertarian who takes his calling seriously! Three cheers for Nat Hentoff's trenchant review of the issues at stake in Bender v. Williamsport Area School District. And kudos to you for printing this highly perceptive, definitive Commentary ("Is Religious Speech a Protected Right?" Education Week, Sept. 28, 1983).
Indeed, I never cease to be amazed by the fanaticism of those who insist upon an absolute "freedom from religion" in our public schools. Such strict secularist orthodoxy knows no bounds in its zeal to deny fundamental religious-freedom rights to our nation's students.
Perhaps the day will arrive when all parents will be afforded the means to choose their children's schools, thereby determining for themselves an educational climate most in keeping with their own moral and religious precepts. Provisions such as tuition tax credits and education vouchers would by no means alleviate the need to ensure religious liberty for public-school students as well. But they would provide families the choice of whether to accept discriminatory practices, confront them, or simply avoid the entire mess.
Stephen Settle Director of Communications Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights Milwaukee, Wis.
Your excellent article dealing with the problem of financial equity and excellence ("Finance Experts Debate Role of Equity in Excellence Movement," Education Week, Oct. 5, 1983) inadvertantly brought to the surface the real problem of defining excellence. You quote Rachel B. Tompkins, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund, who said, "How about, 'Every child at grade level'?"
Ms. Tompkins reminds me of my old friend, Lester Ball, who, when he was superintendent of schools in Millburn, N.J., suggested the way to satisfy the high expectations of parents in a school district that usually sends 90 percent of its graduates to college. He said that if he could find a way to place 100 percent of the students in the top half of the class, all his parent problems would be resolved. Ms. Tompkins should know better!
Robert D. Fleischer Assistant Professor School of Education and Supervision Programs Lehigh University Bethlehem, Pa.
Editor's Note: Mr. Fleischer appears not to understand the term "grade level," according to Ms. Tompkins. "He assumes that grade level means average," she says, "and it doesn't. There is no reason why every 3rd grader can't read at the 3rd-grade level."