(Tribune April 2006)
I attended Fonthill Public School from 1944 to 1952. In those days, FPS was under the care and guidance of the principal, A. K. Wigg. Art Wigg was probably one of the most progressive and respected educators of his day and I could write a complete essay on his extensive contributions to the community. But not this time.
Polite people say Mr. Wigg was strict. Others say he ran the school under a reign of terror. I will let you decide.
When I was in grade 3, a buddy of mine was caught doing a bad thing. He had discovered a loose end in the asphalt siding to the entrance shed, and as little kids do, he was working it loose because it was there. A.K. caught him "defacing public property!" Our class was back in session when my pal was marched into the cloakroom at the front of the room and, let me put this gently, justice was administered.
The sound of the strap against a palm, the predictable "WHAAA!" and the follow up lecture by A.K. was lesson enough to all of my classmates and me. We did not cause much trouble for the rest of the year. We were not stupid.
Sometimes things did not go as planned. In every elementary school, there was always a kid who was just a little smarter than the rest of the population. This kid was street smart, he was "cool". One day, Art Wigg took our cool kid into the small office that separated the second floor classrooms in order to bring justice to our world. Problem was, as the strap came down on cool kid’s outstretched hand, cool kid grabbed that end and held on!
Now folks, that was not the plan. The combatants debated their positions with loud words and the teachers in the two adjoining classrooms were facing a monumental professional challenge. Who would they cheer for? I cannot remember how the issue was finally resolved, (it was over fifty years ago), but it does illustrate that there could be a downside for the teachers. It is probable that this sort of resistance and counter attack eventually led to the phasing out of corporal punishment in the school system. Teachers are not stupid.
Did I ever get the strap from A. K.? You bet!
Walking home for lunch one day, I got into a shoving match with two other guys and we all ended up rolling around on someone’s lawn, kicking up a heck of a fuss. We were not on school property and were not on school time. Mr. Wigg was not falling for that wimpy defense, we were all three marched back to the school and up to the infamous office on the second floor. The strap came out of the drawer.
Most people my age can look back over life and identify one moment where they saw the light, that one moment when they suddenly figured out the secret of survival. This was my moment. As the strap came down on my upturned palm, it occurred to me that although the sound was frightening, the darn thing did not hurt too badly. I realized, however, that A.K. could probably make it worse and (this is the secret of survival) he was not going to stop until I bawled. So I did. He stopped. He lectured. I went home.
The reaction at home? Here is the good part. I had always been a wimpy sissy kind of kid, skinny, big ears, not "cool". Let me tell you, when my father got the news that his kid had gotten the strap from A. K. he was so darn proud he almost burst.
And the girls! No kidding, girls (we are talking grades 6 and 7 here) who never even looked at me before this, sidled up, elbow nudge, wink and grin – I was in heaven.
We must remember, at that time and in that place, A.K. Wigg had the full support of the parents and the community. His methods were politically correct in the society of the day. Students, like myself, understood there were rules of behavior we were expected to follow and we did not emerge from the discipline process scarred for life. We learned that although we had rights, even as children we had responsibilities. We were not beaten, we were spanked. It worked.
Attitudes change. There is a proposal before the Public Health and Social Services Committee of the Niagara Region that a recommendation be made to Regional Council to endorse a paper entitled "Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth". It is also recommended that the Joint Statement be referred to "Early Years Niagara" for endorsement and finally that the Regional Chairman sign a letter from Council to Justice Canada recommending a legal review of the Criminal Code.
The authors of the Joint Statement appear to consider spanking, corporal punishment and physical discipline all to represent physical punishment. Light taps and slaps of hands and buttocks are lumped together with acts of caning and belting, whatever their degree of outcome and regardless of the intent behind them. It is suggested that this zero tolerance position be used as a guideline in revisions to the Criminal Code.
Under such revisions, Art Wigg becomes a criminal. So does every parent or caregiver who slaps a child’s hand. With zero tolerance, any schoolteacher or youth leader would be required to report suspicions of such events to the police, who would, in turn, be required to commence an investigation. In addition, the opportunity for children or their self-appointed advocates to hold parents to ransom under the threat of false charges is very real. The experiences reported by the US press regarding abuse of zero tolerance laws in that country should caution us against implementing any similar laws here.
The Joint Statement is the product of academics and I do not have the academic credentials to debate their theories. I have, however, received physical discipline as a child, and I do not look back with a lot of emotional issues. I am a father, a stepfather and grandfather. I have seen bad behavior and have dealt with discipline. I still get birthday cards from the kids and hugs from the grandchildren.
The submission to Regional Council states that in a 2002 survey, 50% of Canadian parents reported that they, or their spouse had "inflicted light corporal punishment, like a slap" on their children. Statistically, half of Canadian parents have judged that light corporal punishment is, at time, correct. The authors of the Joint Submission do not agree. They have judged such actions to be criminal activity.
Regional Council is being asked to support this premise on your behalf.