Challenger School

A Little Less Fear


Spanking is in the news again.

This time, it’s the case of a high profile football player.

The debate is back on: what constitutes child abuse and what doesn’t?

Thankfully, we aren’t having that debate in schools any longer. Or are we?

In 22 states, some form of corporal punishment is still legal. This is according to the web, which may or may not be reliable.

It got me thinking—what if I could paddle children? Would I? Would it make my job easier?

My parents used to tell me that kids nowadays fail to behave because they can’t be paddled. They referenced a passage from the Bible about sparing the rod and spoiling the child.

But I don’t think I could do it. It would take an awful lot to push me to the place where I would ever be able to paddle a student.

Of course, Utah is not one of the states where this is still legal. So I don’t have to even worry about the temptation.

Even if I could, though—if I lived in one of the “spanking” hot spots—I don’t think I would. You see, I don’t think we need to be meaner and more stern with children. I actually think we need to be nicer.

There used to be an old adage about a teacher withholding her smile until Christmas. That’ll teach the kids. We don’t want them getting too comfortable.

The problem is that we don’t learn well when we are afraid. In education circles, it’s called the affective filter. Some research was done many years ago that found children who are anxious about their classroom environments simply do not have the mental stamina to do well at school. Their fear blocks their mechanism at fully comprehending the material, it seems.

This means we have to be creative. Creative in the face of sometimes very challenging odds. We have to seek ways of, yes, actually getting to know our young people. It may mean adapting our instruction, maybe even throwing out some of those old worksheets gathering dust in our filing cabinets.

It may mean getting to know what makes kids tick. We may have to look into what kids like, even if it pushes us past our own interests.

And we may have to get to know our kids and their families on a level beyond school. Developing relationships can make all the difference in a child’s willingness to learn.

I hope this doesn’t sound too preachy. That’s not my intent. I don’t think the football player actually abused his child. I think he employed what many of us think works with children—fear.

I wonder what parents would do if they knew that spanking doesn’t make children afraid of committing ill deeds. It just makes them afraid, in general. It makes them afraid of making mistakes. It makes them afraid of telling the truth. It makes them afraid of us, the adults in their lives.

Isn’t it time for a little less fear in the world?

About author

Dr. Jim Martin

Dr. Jim Martin

Jim Martin is a principal in the Salt Lake City School District and foster dad to two boys. He is graduate of Westminster College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education. He then went on to get a Masters degree in Teaching and Learning and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy. Jim has taught kindergarten, first, fourth, and fifth grades. This is his tenth year as a public school administrator. In his spare time, Jim loves theatre and has acted in over 30 productions. He is the artistic director of a local theatre company.

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