Corporal Punishment and the Pornography of Violence: An Armchair Case Study of St. Augustine Catholic School

Corporal punishment in schools has been an issue of debate for a couple of centuries in Western society in the modern era.  To fast forward to just the last century or so there had been cases of corporal punishment that wasn’t just extended toward children, but also toward women as well.  It wasn’t until the 1870s that courts here in the U.S. outlawed corporal punishment of a man toward his wife as unlawful laying the ground work for domestic violence to actually be seen as socially unacceptable.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that states began to outlaw corporal punishment in their school districts, and it’s from there that we begin the contemporary debate on the subject.

Simply stated, corporal punishment in a school setting is embarrassing to the student and it provides a swift disciplinary action and allows the student to get back to work.  No long drawn out punishment and certainly not a suspension or something that takes the student out of the classroom.  Opponents, of course, simply say that it’s violent and abusive.

Enter St. Augustine High School.

St. Aug's Marching 100

St. Augustine, locally and affectionately known as “St. Aug.” and home to the city treasure Purple Knights Marching 100 Band, gained some national press when HuffingtonPost carried an article about them and their storied tradition of paddling their students.  The story came to bear because of the push from Archbishop Gregory Aymond and the overseers were threatening to ban this practice of paddling.  Aymond, in a packed town hall meeting with the St. Aug community, expressed concerned that he’s overseeing the only Catholic school in the country that still practices corporal punishment.

Oh, by the way, St. Aug is historically an all black and all male Catholic school.

And you know how black people are when it comes to whoopins.

If I can park here for a moment, I think black people have developed a pathology associated with the pornography of violence birthed out of ancient cultural norms of civilization.

Okay, that was a mouthful, so allow me to connect the dots backwards.

Blacks in this country historically and culturally celebrate whoopins. It’s common enough in the black community to sit around at the dinner table or at holidays and share “horror stories” about the time when Mama got after you with the belt, or the time daddy took the extension (‘stanchin’ cord) after us.  We have carried this meme with us and tell stories about a long lost community where a neighbor, Ms. Washington, would see us doing something wrong and come whoop us, call our parent and then mama would get us when we walk through the door, and then get another one when daddy got home.  This scene was played out in Spike Lee’s “Get On The Bus” and when all of them were playing cards sharing their stories and Gary, the mixed police officer, talked about his “time out” he got, he was immediately viewed as an outsider.

We hear this romanticized tale told from our church pulpits, around the dinner table and even glorified in the stand up comedy routines of black comics, I doubt that was as widespread as I remember.  Personally, I hear more stories of parental angst and frustration and stories of sheer child abuse.  Yes, the stories are wildly funny with children grabbing the belt and being flung about the room by an angry parent and it draws up an image only worthy of a children’s picture book, but that line between discipline and child abuse is relatively thin and I think it get crossed anytime intentional violence is inflicted upon a child.

I think much of this stems from the religiousity of the black community where we preach “spare the rod, spare [spoil] the child” as though Jesus himself had said it.  Last I checked, Jesus didn’t have any kids, and that’s a quote from Proverbs anyway and I still have to ask, did the writer of those Proverbs have any kids either?  Our blind religiousness at times sometimes engages in some unhealthy psychological practices, I think this is one of them.

If I can be transparent, and air some personal family business in the process just to illustrate my point, I have a close family member who didn’t believe that I got whoopins as a child.  Now, I remember on way more than one occasion getting my butt tore up!  I remember getting chased around the house trying to avoid one, getting one in a hotel room, getting one after I had gone to bed with just shorts on in the summer, getting one in front of my friend…I can go on.  My mother had long since told me that _______ believes we didn’t give you whoopins, but honestly, I didn’t believe my mother had gotten the story right.  Surely her _____ would believe her if she said I did.  But, in true family fashion, it was Christmas and we were all sharing our stories, and at 23 years old, my _____ turned to me and said “Oh, you got whoopins?”

The look on my face told the entire story.

In my _____’s mind, she had so equated the effectiveness of whoopins with behavior that she reasoned that because of my bad behavior (as seen through her eyes) that I wasn’t getting whoopins. For her, “spare the rod, spare the child” was a literal interpretation.  For her, and hundreds of thousands of other parents across this country and this globe, it is okay to correct violence with more violence.

I think violence coupled with violence is a pornography of violence.  It’s just too much.  I don’t use the word “pornography” to speak of a sexual arousal, but that we in this culture are aroused psychologically by violence.  John Dominic Crossan, whom I’ve heavily quoted before last summer, wrote about the “violent normalcy of civilization.”  He started with ancient European cultures and how for them “war is [relative] peace.”  Romans regarded peace not as an absence of war, but the rare situation that existed when all opponents had been beaten down and lost the ability to resist.  As this translates into the modern march of civilization in the last 2,000 or so odd years is that one’s establishment of civilization has been meted out through just how violent one human can be over another.  We see this throughout history as one’s superiority was measured in their standing army.

This is interconnected to just how blacks here in this country view corporal punishment because we are undoubtedly products of a violent culture.  We are still only 146 years removed from the legal end of slavery in this country and the practice of the inane hatred of a whole race and culture to the point of enslavement.  Slavery was often times brutal and merciless, in short it was nauseatingly violent.  Violence was used to keep slaves in line.  From the lashing of a cat o’nine tails whip, to the cutting off of extremities to teach a lesson to the public lynching of black bodies from trees–one of the ultimate displays of a pornography of violence.  Somehow and somewhere, blacks here in America took a cue from how whites generally treated blacks and reified their idea of action versus consequence and we in turn began to mete out violence on our own children.

Corporal punishment studies, at least as far as I’m concerned give me more to be concerned about than to celebrate.  One of which is that corporal punishment is still legal in 20 states, almost all of which are down south.  Big shock, right?  Private schools are exempt from this ban, but even still the majority of private schools that engage in corporal punishment are in the South, and are predominantly evangelical or fundamentalist Christian schools.

See a pattern here already?

Verified studies show that Latino and black students were more likely to receive corporal punishment than their white counterparts.  This is probably because black and Latino parents were more likely to sign off on it.  However, there were a few cases where disciplinary action in general was burdened by Latino and black students at certain schools through the country.  And beyond that, the sticky issue is that statistics have shown that 80% of students who are paddled are boys.

Right–you try and explain why little Susy or Anne was bent over Mr. Johnson’s lap and was being paddled!

And since I went there (inadvertently I might add) I think the pornography of violence title does strike a different chord in this light.  How often have we heard of the “naughty school girl” used as a sexually tantalizing image toward older males.  One’s sado-masochist sexual proclivities aside, the idea of corporal punishment in our schools private or public now not just seems like a pornography of violence, but now it just sounds like some sick sexually perverted joke; as if it’s someone’s unilateral wet dream.

So what does this have to do with an all black and all male Catholic high school in the 7th ward?

Everything.

I think above all it speaks to how strongly we hold to tradition.  We, as a nation are violent because this was a nation founded and secured and maintained through violence.  It was our history, it is our present reality.  Christianity is steeped in violence from the wars fought in the Hebrew bible, to the bellicose rhetoric of Paul not “wrestling” against flesh and blood, but against principalities and spiritual wickedness in high places.  Certainly post-biblical Christianity has done its due diligence of supporting their hegemonically violent beliefs with the biblical record.

St. Augustine High School alumni aimed their impassioned defense of corporal punishment -- or corporal 'correction,' as many of them suggested it be called -- at New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, center, and other clergymen. Chris Granger, The Times-Picayune 2/24/2011

One’s belief in a tiny aphorism to “spare the rod, spare the child” is no more of a life philosophy than “God helps those who help themselves” or “seize the day” or “penny saved is a penny earned”; it’s really more about how much are we tied into the belief of it!  The tradition of St. Aug states [to the effect] that corporal punishment has produced a bevy of strongly successful persons over the years from politics, to business leaders on the local and national level and a whole slew of NFL players.  I’m merely pushing back by saying, I think all of those men would be who they are today had they never been paddled.  I think the same criticism goes for fraternity and sororities who participate in physical hazing; we should be interested in the shaping of one’s minds, saving the community and being better people and not beating the crap out of one another!  Persons who were abused in the pledging process often times do the same thing to their neophytes not because of some altruistic motive, but simply because it was done to them and that’s just the way it is.  This same thought is how many parents and teachers feel about corporal punishment that since they had it happen to them, that their children or students should experience it as well; it’s this “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” philosophy that does nothing but reinforce bad traditions.

For all my recollections of getting whoopins I can only remember one instance where I can remember what warranted me getting said punishment.  Now yes, speaking as someone without children, I think it’s somewhat lazy parenting.  The swiftness of discipline that a spanking or inflicting pain on the object of the parent’s frustration, the child, does more to assuage the parents frustration than teaching the child real self control.  What it does is teach the child that certain actions will cause someone else to control me.  Now, admittedly, this is a small portion of parenting and generally speaking the positive reinforcements that typical loving parents give to their children far outweigh the negative reinforcement of whoopins, but still I think that there’s another way of doing it.

The alumni of St. Aug say it made me who they are today, and I almost cringe because in that moment, it seems as though one is celebrating violence; that they are who they are because of violence.  I’m simply stating that I’m sure you’d still be who you are if you never got beat.

Keep it uppity and keep truthfully radical, JLL

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3 responses to “Corporal Punishment and the Pornography of Violence: An Armchair Case Study of St. Augustine Catholic School

  1. ” we should be interested in the shaping of one’s minds, saving the community and being better people and not beating the crap out of one another! ”

    That is exactly what St Aug has been known for during these 60 years. There is no sanctioned violence by students against one another. Rather the paddle is used “as a last resort” as a deterrent to future “bad behavior”

    You had it right in your earlier notation…

    “Simply stated, corporal punishment in a school setting is embarrassing to the student and it provides a swift disciplinary action and allows the student to get back to work. No long drawn out punishment and certainly not a suspension or something that takes the student out of the classroom. Opponents, of course, simply say that it’s violent and abusive.”

    • @ Ralph Gaston

      I think the simple fact that it’s used as a last resort, and that there aren’t any horror stories coming out of the school should make it all the more easier for it to be removed. It’s just like removing an American flag from inside a church sanctuary. No one ever used it, it was collecting dust, but the moment the pastor decides to remove it, then people all of a sudden want it to stay and have all of these reasons why it should be there.

      I think the St. Aug case is more about resistance to change rather than some firm belief in corporal punishment.

  2. this is a great post.
    i completely agree with your thoughts on it reinforcing violence and therefore defeating its own purpose. i can only recall being “whooped” once in my life by my parents, but i’ve been paddled at my schools maybe 5 or 6 times starting in the second grade (i was raised in southern Alabama). and there never was any problem with it, the only time i’ve heard anyone respond to me telling them i was paddled or that my school had corporal punishment was when i moved to the north. i don’t think it did anything for me, except maybe when i was in the 2nd grade. but i think the problem was not me, rather it was my teacher that failed to instill any type of authority in the classroom.
    in reference to the European mentality of ‘war being peace’ is a very good point. is this a point to say that we should possibly be looking at indigenous or non-European societies on proper parenting measures? if so, i would agree. i don’t recall any field studies of groups of indigenous peoples showing that these children are “whooped”. and i think that says a lot. studies have also shown that parents that beat their children are more likely to lose control and actually abuse them than a parent that is not. i don’t have children either, but i think authority needs to be reinforced as opposed to violence.
    also, lol at “stanchin cords”.

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