The red zinger

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You’ve heard older generations say it before, “I walked two miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways.” My time as a student wasn’t far from that old idiom, but related more to discipline.

The snow was a spring breeze compared to corporal punishment some students, like me, had to endure. In catholic grade school, a slap across the knuckles hurt just enough to stop you from pinching the guy in front of you. By the time I was in public high school, corporal punishment was a little more intense. After doing something stupid in class, I would be directed to the assistant principal’s office where I was given a choice (this is a democracy after all), “OK Fausz, do you want to write a thousand-word essay on the Argentine pampas, have me call your mother or take three swats with the paddle of your choice. This is a democracy after all.” It didn’t take but a second to decide,

“I’ll take the swats from the Red Zinger, Mr. Isles.”

It was a lot easier to take the swats or even the essay than to have my mother called. You see, she didn’t take my side; she would dispense a punishment worse than the Red Zinger – grounding. The pain of the Red Zinger, the Holy Roller (no air resistance to slow down the paddle on the way to your butt) and Wailing Whiner were quite an influence on my behavior and grades, too.

I interviewed a professor last week at Virginia State University (see lead article on page 1) and couldn’t help but ask him how well university students are prepared when they enter higher education today. First he figured, students are not as well prepared as they once were. But he didn’t blame parents in the same way that K-12 administrators do.

“For students to engage fully in challenging learning, they must have increased levels of support from the people around them, (CC Design for Excellence, Jones, 2008).” He blamed parents for taking sides with little Johnny when he is acting out, not doing his work or not paying attention. A note home could bring the wrath of a parent or even the law down upon you. Teachers could become wary of parents, just plain empathic, in a lawsuit or in jail.

Case in point: The band director at Matoaca Middle School who, while giving instructions and “inadvertently touching the boy in the face while trying to get him to pay attention” gently adjusted a young man’s face as to get his attention. That teacher/band director is now on administrative leave after being hauled off by police and a suit naming the teacher and school can only be expected.

Author Janelle Harris wrote, “There are too many parents who operate under that “customer is always right” syndrome that makes them believe that their child’s teacher is at their mercy. It’s disrespectful to the poor educator trying to do their job and, honestly, to the kid too, who’s under the impression that he or she doesn’t have to adhere to rules because their mama or daddy will show up and set it off on their behalf. So then they grow up and take that attitude into high school and college and the workforce, always having had their parent coddling their boo boo. It’s a formula for disaster.”

Have parents gone too far? Proper care and supervision can lead parents to overdoing it, not assisting, but butting into a classroom and its teacher’s discretion on how to teach? Our educators are already forced to teach to a test and schools could soon be graded A-F on performance with the threat of the schools being taken over by the state if it grades too low.

And then the Governor cuts the budget. “Since the 2008 General Assembly, we [Virginia government] have permanently cut biennial funding for public education by $1.6 billion through changes in the Standards of Quality funding formula,” VEA President Kitty Boitnott said in a Jan. 23 news conference.

The hubris of parents could be pushing the Virginia Department of Education to “do something” about education in Virginia. How about a little more cash from the state for local school systems; enough support (I always wonder where lottery money goes) to pay new teachers a living wage encouraging college students to make teaching their major and vocation. The starting salary of a Chesterfield teacher, right out of college, is $39,491 – the lowest in the Richmond region and listed 23 in the U.S. – taking home each week about $560 after taxes. After living expenses, a teacher’s take-home pay may have to pay for an apartment, school loan payment, car payment, school clothes, groceries and school supplies without taking on a roommate – impossible.  

I understand that in this economy that the Governor and GA have to cut back, but education is not the place to do it. Or maybe it’s not the funding at all. Maybe we should quit indulging our boo boos and consider bringing back the Red Zinger.

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