IN EARLY November, Colyn Harrington, the principal of Johnston Square Elementary School, lost her job after she threatened to cut off the male member of some runt who used foul language. What's wrong with this picture?
Several things, not the least of which is sheer hypocrisy. Since when has American society become so upset or concerned about the idea of male castration? Aren't we the same society that has been giggling hideously on that very subject since Lorena Bobbitt gave her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, the world's most famous penisectomy?
Hacking off a guy's genitalia is a hoot here in the good old U.S. of A. In June 1993, Bobbitt used a knife to sever her husband's penis from his body. Surgeons reattached it, to the dismay of feminists and other women who harbor castration fantasies. But John Wayne Bobbitt's pride and joy wasn't back on a good five minutes before the jokes started coming in. And men eagerly joined in the jocularity.
But notice the double standard. Jokes about sexual mutilation of women are verboten. In fact, Americans lecture African and Arab countries about the practice of performing clitorectomies on young women. It's sexual mutilation, we preach. It's wrong and disgusting and horrible. When we're done preaching, we go back to our snickerthon here in America about the joys and delights of male castration.
How could Harrington, in this climate, feel she was doing anything inappropriate by bringing a young boy into her office and suggesting he might lose his male member if he didn't clean up his mouth? In fact, why did she have to? In my day, Harrington could have taken the pint-sized potty mouth into her office, dropped his pants and drawers and paddled his little fanny until he got his mind right.
That's how it was done back in the day. I remember the lecture my third-grade class at School 128 on Schroeder Street got the day we entered Miss Moses' room. Those of us who spent the first and second grades at 128 already knew that Miss Moses was gorgeous and popular. That day, as we sat in her room, we realized she was also someone not to be trifled with. She described how she handled discipline cases.
"Pants come down, and skirts go up," Miss Moses intoned. We knew without being told what happened after that. We were probably the best behaved group of 8-year-olds in the free world.
The debate over whether corporal punishment should be used in schools has been long and acrimonious. But I doubt if any in the anti-corporal punishment camp would argue that discipline in schools is better without it.
But whether we're for or against corporal punishment, we can all agree, can't we, that's it's a different America today than when teachers could routinely spank a child into compliance? What teacher or principal of the 1950s or 1960s had to deal with an 8-year-old boy who would ask a girl to perform an oral sex act on him?
Where would an 8-year-old boy learn such language to begin with? Perhaps he was inspired by his president, Bill Pinocchio Cigar-Boy Clinton. He may have learned it from older guys in his neighborhood. I pray he doesn't have the kind of parents who routinely take their children to R-rated movies, where they'll definitely be exposed to such language. But seeing kids as young as 8 in an R-rated movie is par for the course these days.
During my youth, parents could send their children to the movies with the assurance that they would not hear profane language. But parents were better at the task of child-rearing then. Children had to address all elders as "sir" and "ma'am." The word of mom and dad was law. We didn't dare talk back, figuring that all our teeth would serve us well as adults.
Parents had their children snug in their beds on school nights, after making sure the homework was done. Today, it's not uncommon to see 8-year-olds out on the streets on school nights, a clear indication that some mommies and daddies haven't a clue as to what being an effective parent is all about.
Colyn Harrington has been banished from the school system, the victim not so much of her own folly as of a society that continues to lower its standards of decorum and civilization and then stands aghast when its children live down to them.
Pub Date: 12/12/98