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Opinion, Dave Dale: Brutality begets brutality

This might be a good year to pay attention to whatever school board candidates are saying ahead of the municipal council and trustee elections Oct. 24.
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The Dale kids with Dad celebrating his 40th birthday in Pittsburgh in the mid-1970s. The beaming smile was paddled away by school authorities.

A Missouri school board is desperate enough to bring back corporal punishment and Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire spanked the idea fairly well the other day.

I agree with his distilled position although not his suggested solution or premise, but the topic did strike a memory of a time my behind was on the line and at the mercy of the principal’s demented purview.

Walsh isn’t a household name here in Ontario, which is probably a good thing. As an American right-wing commentator, he has made a career of annoying the left with his fastidious logic-based tear-downs of the soft progressive underbelly.

Like many in the division industry, he’s too much to take at times and gets carried away with the whole right-left war stuff, even if his points sometimes have merit. Unlike some, my news and information entertainment sources are wide-ranging and venture across the political spectrum to get a fuller understanding of society's flaws and virtues. I keep the pulse of the far left pumpkin patch as well, usually catching up on how a well-intentioned idea becomes a social engineering nightmare. Both sides and the middle can raise my bushy Ukrainian eyebrow as they chop up and dissect the competing fringe, yet there are nuggets of golden perspective hidden in the mud and gravel.

So many people seem overly angry these days.

Walsh said corporal punishment is being considered because suspensions don’t work on kids who don’t want to be there anyway and there’s little help from parents who give up trying to parent. But he said, from his view, the leftist adults in the school can’t be trusted to dole out corporal punishment – because the government and public education system is in shambles from their own doing (woke-ism and critical race theory dog whistles galore). He then suggested the best course of action is for people to abandon the public school system. American ingenuity is on full display here, just tear down what you can afford to avoid (he skips the part where Republicans starve schools, erode social services, and fill the atrophy with private entities that leave the poor to rot.)

Look at how both the Liberals and now Progressive Conservatives in Ontario have neglected or mismanaged both public education and health care, creating similar chaos to be bandaged with privatization.

It’s still a bit different in Ontario compared to the worst of the U.S. and even more different in Nipissing when it comes to the school boards (from what I can see). The situation is far from perfect and less so in recent years due to Covid complexities and nefarious political scheming.

Word to the wise, this might be a good year to pay attention to whatever school board candidates are saying ahead of the municipal council and trustee elections Oct. 24.

The corporal punishment issue in the U.S. reminded me of my unfortunate formative years in the American public school system. I attended three elementary schools in Pennsylvania in the 1970s and then spent Gr. 12 in an Ohio high school, plus a semester at a Kent State University satellite campus – in aptly named Stark County.

I was more than a tad traumatized by the time we left Pittsburgh – three different schools Grades 3 thru 6 cast a dark shade on my disposition. Corporal punishment in the area involved old-school hard-wood paddles, something the American education considered civilized.

The first to grace my behind was polished with a dark, shiny stain and delivered in a furnace room to the grim delight of my primary teachers. It was heavy but on the thin side, as it turns out.

My next encounter with a butt bat came in Gr. 6 after I “organized” a 30-student snowball fight – apparently, the Canadian kid mustered his new classmates into platoons and had them use the school’s driveway snowbanks as battle lines. I probably learned it on Hogan’s Heroes, MASH or Gomer Pyle, essential elements of the television diet down there. Truth be told, it was an epic snowball fight and even doubly epic in an unfortunate way when a girl wandered into “no man’s land” and took a chunk of ice in the face. I’m sure I warned everybody not to scrape up gravel in the snowball ammo but didn’t think about ice chunks. I recall blood but it could be my imagination.

It became a big deal fast, either way, and I remember sitting at my desk wishing I was not as they broadcast over the monitor a horrific interrogation of the usual ruffians. They wanted a scapegoat and it wasn’t long before my name was called. “David James Dale to the principal’s office …”

They didn’t seem to like me much down in Pittsburgh, it could have been the bright blue eyes and very blonde hair framing an irritatingly straight white teeth smile. I must have stood out among the white people as a very white person.

It’s also possible I just wasn’t adjusting well and did a few terrible things in a desperate effort to repair my self-esteem by taking out my frustrations on those around me.

The Gr. 6 paddling definitely had an impact, of course, although I’m not sure it was a well-considered plan in the long run.

The school principal was old and weathered, a tall man with grey-blue hair with an air of a church pastor. Kidding, of course, my memory isn’t that sharp as my leaking eyes were fixated on the plank of oak he was cradling in his wiry hands. There were dozens of pencil-sized holes drilled into it and I could see the light of the window through them. Innovated with evil intention, it made the paddle whistle as it sliced through the air.

Did you get the part where the Gr. 6 classes were listening through the room monitors? Imagine a diminutive little boy bent over a desk with a maniac whaling away on my buttocks with a perforated implement of power, my whimpers, and cries designed to stamp the fear of pain and humiliation in every kid’s soul.

Civilized society my butt. It was their Bi-Centennial celebration that year, a full 200 years after breaking away from a tyrannical England to form their own Dark Star Empire through Imperialism.  

Returning to Canada in 1977 was a relief, they preferred using a strap across the hands to discipline us hooligans and I can’t remember being paddled again. Teachers here were pretty good at head games to deal with young idiots, using the removal of privileges like gym and after-school sports to keep us in line.

Looking back, I admittedly deserved an attitude adjustment of some kind as I had some issues that required attention. Counselling might have been helpful. We should certainly prioritize mental health services for school-age children while we're darning our shredded safety net.

Going overboard with corporal punishment, however, created a gaping wound of disdain for authority that lasted decades. I’m still a little bitter about some of it and I trust it has something to do with my utter disdain for righteous Americans or American-style anything. I can understand although don't condone or excuse those who go ballistic down there.

The worst part is the mob mentality and justifications they invent to excuse their methods of controlling others – and it’s just as bad on the far left. The two solitudes on the margins suck up all the oxygen as they try to force others to live within their visions of utopia.

In summary, I’m not against using a firm hand when it comes to enforcing the boundaries of social co-existence but it has to be attached to a sane and otherwise fair individual in power. Otherwise, the carrot is more ideal than the stick when trying to motivate a change of almost any kind.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to editor@baytoday.ca. To contact the writer directly, email: davedale@backinthebay.ca or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca