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Thursday, 20 December 2018

Firm Blows in the Deep South

By a Janus Correspondent from Janus 163
Texas is one of those parts of the world which never enjoyed the benefit of British rule. There were no European settlements at all there until 1685, and it was only in 1836 that independence was won from Mexico and a republic established. Nine years later Texas became the twenty-eighth of the United States, only to secede again at the outbreak of the American Civil War and then re-join at its conclusion. On this side of the Atlantic, things have been somewhat different. Ever since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, through union with Scotland in the eighteenth century and with Ireland in the nineteenth, our system of government has remained the same. The contrast is a salutary one.
Happily, life in Texas today shows all the signs of a stable civilisation — even some signs that have passed away from our own country. Texan high school pupils, for example, are not permitted simply to do as they wish. Those who misbehave are, quite rightly, punished. If their misbehaviour is sufficiently serious, they are hit with a wooden paddle. This was the fate of a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl named Amber Page. Most readers will already be familiar with Miss Page’s case, but in case any have forgotten — and the events took place some years ago — a brief precis follows.
Amber Page attended high school in the town of Grand Prairie. One Friday at the end of April 1999 she was caught smoking a cigarette in the school grounds and given the alternatives of two days’ “in-school suspension” or two blows with a paddle. She chose the latter, but when school ended on Friday her punishment had still not been administered. Getting dressed on Monday morning, Miss Page put on four pairs of shorts and, in order to disguise them, wore some dungarees as well, but her punishment did not arrive that day either. It was not until the following Friday, seven full days after her original offence, that she was ordered to present herself at the school office. Somewhat ironically, she had chosen that day to dress in a short denim skirt. Present in the room were two assistant principals, or deputy headmasters as we would have it. Miss Page later reported wishing that a lady could have been present. The office door was shut. Miss Page bent over. She could not see which of the assistant principals was to hit her. She received two blows of the paddle on her buttocks.
Clearly a case like this provides much food for thought, but certain of its aspects are particularly praiseworthy. Miss Page was, at the outset, kept for several days in a state of uncertainty as to when she would be paddled. This would have brought her several benefits. First of all it must have made her punishment seem more severe when it was finally administered. A week, for a girl of seventeen, can be an eternity. The anticipation alone would have been enough to put her through mental turmoil; but with the uncertainty to deal with too, Miss Page must have spent the whole week unable to think of anything but her coming ordeal. This can only have led to her being far more susceptible to pain by the time she was finally summoned, and hence to her punishment’s being all the more efficacious.
Another good reason for the delay lies in Miss Page’s attempts to cushion the impact of her paddling. Any responsible adult can see that when she was subjected to physical chastisement, her own best interests were being served. On reflection, though, it is perhaps natural that such a young girl could not understand this. There is something almost touching in her donning several pairs of shorts in the hope of experiencing less pain. However she only persisted in this for a single day. Perhaps, with the logic of the young, Miss Page considered the effect on her choice of attire and decided this was the more important factor. (Undressing for physical education might also have played a part — all the more reason for teachers to survey girls closely in the changing room.) Whether or not this was so — and whether or not Miss Page’s teachers foresaw her actions from their experience of paddling other girls — the week’s delay again proved apposite. Not only did Miss Page abandon her ruse, but when her dies irae came she happened to dress in a manner which, only a few decades back, would have been considered indecent. Symbolically, at least, her punishment can be seen as a denunciation of the mores practised by a debased younger generation.
More important, though, than these effects of the delay are the moral consequences for Miss Page. She was given plenty of time to reflect on what she had done wrong. Anyone who has taught girls at this age will attest that it is impossible truly to discipline them without some repentance on their part. If this comes after they are punished, all well and good, but ideally it should come in anticipation of a punishment not yet received. This was evidently the case with Miss Page, since she asked to be excused a paddling and offered instead to give a talk to younger pupils on the dangers of smoking tobacco. This in itself is proof (if proof were needed) of the benefits of corporal punishment on girls. It also demonstrates what folly it would have been to relent from chastising Miss Page physically. Had she not been caught and informed of how she was to be punished, her change of heart would never have taken place. In such situations, school authorities must think not just of one individual but of all the girls in their care. If Miss Page had been excused, other less sincere girls would have claimed changes of heart of their own, no doubt, then gone on to break other school rules in the belief they could do so with impunity. The very fact she saw she was at fault is testament to the peculiar effectiveness of corporal punishment on girls: she would never have done so otherwise.
As to the punishment itself, anyone would agree that the number of blows was patently insufficient — but we ought to save our attention for a matter which is both more important and, potentially, more controversial. Should Miss Page have been allowed to wear her denim skirt while being punished? Should she not, rather, have been forced to bare her buttocks? These questions are not unconnected to a further matter, namely Miss Page’s desire to have a lady staff member present. Having her wishes thwarted in this way must have made her experience even worse and, therefore, even more effective. Nonetheless, some would aver that a girl disrobing thus should only be supervised by staff of the female sex, and they do have a point. The argument goes something like this. Because the virtue of modesty is so important in a young lady, it should be inculcated in girls from an early age; and, once inculcated, it should not be outraged by making a girl display part of her body which ought to be glimpsed only within the bounds of lawful matrimony. This argument arises from the best of motives, no doubt. Nonetheless, those who uphold the best interests of today’s youth ought to scotch it. One would never, in normal circumstances, counsel a girl who was being assailed simply to remain still and submit — and yet, during corporal punishment, one is obliging the recipient to do precisely that. Her behaviour has strayed outside of what can be accepted, and so the treatment she receives in her turn is itself extraordinary. This is true of caning or paddling a girl in the first place just as much as it is true of exposing her rear. Moreover, the practice is per se most salutary. Baring a girl’s buttocks does not merely make her punishment more painful. It is a demonstration of the authority being exercised over her. The school is taking her strong reluctance to have anyone see her buttocks, and utilising it against her. Her feelings of outraged modesty, of indignity, of being treated as something less than a lady, mean her punishment has begun before a single blow has been dealt. The most compelling argument in this regard, though, is one that addresses society as a whole. The opinions currently in fashion seem to view corporal punishment as being somehow “sensual” and in some sense connected to those pleasures best confined to the blessed union of man and wife. Any decent, reasonable person can see how absurd this belief is, yet it persists. Such are the times we live in. While taking the existence of such opinions into account, the last thing we should do is pander to them by allowing girls who are caned to remain fully dressed in the name of so-called decency. Genuine decency is of the essence, of course, but if we concede that physical punishment to the bare flesh is even somewhat indecent, we are accepting a false premise which could lead us to abandon a valuable aspect of discipline. In sum, and returning to Miss Page’s case, we should take satisfaction in her distress at not having a lady present, while urging her teachers not to balk in future at paddling girls’ bare buttocks.
Did Miss Page’s chastisement have the effect desired? Did she go on to obey school rules during the remainder of her education? When the local papers lost interest in her case, Miss Page disappeared from the public eye, save for some chatter on the modern “internet.” How she conducted herself from that point till her high school graduation is not known, though her offer to make amends for smoking tobacco should give us cause for optimism. Did she grow up into a law-abiding young lady? Did she give up smoking? Again, we cannot know. But while such firm blows are still being dealt out in Texas, surely that far-off territory can hold some hope for the future.
Some pictures from the press coverage of this real incident:
Amber Page, 17, was kicked off the South Grand Prairie High School cheerleading squad after being caught smoking last month. Amber, who will be a senior in the fall, has been cheering for 11 years. (Arlington Morning News: Lane Hickenbottom)

2 comments:

  1. May we please have the series of stories featuring Siobhan and the bishop which began in Janus 150 (I think). Thanks

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    1. I think that is the Devil series by Jean Philippe Aubourg you are referring to. I will bear in mind for future updates.

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