On Beaters, Wooden Spoons, Belts and More….

More and more often I come across posts praising those instruments of torture which have characterized our childhood and early adolescence at least. I myself have clear memories of having experienced the entire set above and even more, as my mother – a woman half my size, who was in charge of my corporal punishments – used to throw on me whatever she found at hand, if she couldn’t have any of the above educational tools with her. I can still see the heavy, Murano glass ashtray flying towards me. She just missed me an inch that time.

The comments to those posts or pictures shared on fb are the most interesting part, as almost all of them detect a new phenomenology which is spreading among the parents of today who, actually, were the beaten children of yesterday. Those tools of awe, in fact, seem to have become in their memories sorts of magic wands in the hand of enlightened educators, who were our parents. The words are mostly  of comprehension and warm gratitude, even with a touch of melancholy.

 Now, I understand that time alters the impressions that events leave on our mind – or skin – so that we remove the worst part of it, but I would like to ask a question to all those nostalgic admirers of past and stricter systems of education:  if you do believe they worked, that somehow they helped you find the right way or become stronger,  if it is so, well, what prevents you from using them? I’ m not suggesting that your wooden spoon should become again your educational totem, it wouldn’t work and you would look like nuts, besides, there are a lot of laws to protect your children in case of injuries inflicted and THEY know it well.

The point is that today’s parents seem to be at a loss. I remember a comedian, who effectively summed up their psychological state saying that they have been the first generation to have been slapped both by their own parents and their children too. This is not far from the truth, actually, but why has it happened? What have they done to deserve such a treatment? Modern parenting has given up the idea of punishment as educational instrument in favour of a milder approach, the “let’s be friends approach” and this is very likely the core of the problem, as this orientation – and here is the observer/teacher speaking – has generated lots of confusion so far.

Educators, whether they be parents or teachers, cannot be friends of those they mean to educate. We can be friendly and listen, encourage and help, of course, but we can’t be friends, because our role naturally prevents us from being so. I know that many of you may object to this point and are ready to tell me the hours you usually spend talking with your children with – you believe – great satisfaction and success. Sorry, but  I’m afraid you are deluding yourselves. There is a line between us, a line that we adults for many reasons often pretend not to see, but it is always very visible to them. Can students be truly friend of a teacher, that is, someone who eventually judges and grades them? And for what concerns parents, do you believe that your children forget, while you are endeavouring to talk to them choosing the kindest and most loving words, that you are the one from whom depends their chance of having a new smart phone, money, Playstation etc.? That’s the line.

Trying to be friend to avoid a generational, educational conflict is a great mistake, as that conflict has always been important for the definition of characters. Growing also means to question or fight those figures whose task is to guide and teach. It has always been so. And you know what? They’ll admire your firmness , eventually – not so soon, I admit – , just like we ended up thinking our parents like heroes, forgetting the effect of the weapons the used to be so on us. They were not afraid of their role. We should do the same, unarmed, of course.

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24 thoughts on “On Beaters, Wooden Spoons, Belts and More….

  1. I would argue that not using (or very rarely using) punishments is not the same as the “let’s be friends approach”. There are certainly parents (including fortunately my own) and teachers who manage to find a middle-ground where they do remember that they are the adults in the situation but don’t need punishments to keep that authority. Not sure if it always works but I wanted to point it out as I believe it to be a good thing when it does.

  2. My parents weren’t my friends, but they also didn’t use any of the above items to discipline me. They used clearly defined rules and guilt to shame me into doing the right thing. They both could throw shade on me with that teacher look of disappointment that instantly told me who was in charge. I’ve not talked with anyone who longs with nostalgia for the days when punishments were physical, but no doubt they’re out there. Just not around me.

    • You know, Belly, I am a teacher and I have seen the attitude of parents radically change in time, that is why that kind of pictures or posts, which can be mostly found on fb, really surprises me. I want to give you an example. Months ago, during a p/t conference, while I was telling a mother – essaying to find the kindest words – that her son had had “problems” in my subject and he would have been tested in two months’ time. I saw tears fllooding from her eyes. Then she turned to her son and……. started to caress his arm and face to comfort him, while the boy was completely indifferent to my words. No need to say that when it was time to be tested, it was clear that he had done nothing. His mother was by his side and I was only the witch. When I talked to her again, she told me she didn’t know how to behave with her son. Really? Parents seem to have fortotten the meaning of their role, and they won’t get it back weaving a beater, of course.

  3. Pingback: Smacked Around by Your Parents and Your Kids? | See, there's this thing called biology...

  4. That separation between teacher and student is crucial – you are absolutely right. And if you maintain that separation, you earn the students’ respect, or so I found it. As for parents and their offspring, it would be helpful if they remembered who is the grown-up in the relationship, and acted accordingly.

    • I guess, any teacher or parent aims at being loved and admired, but that could become a weakness eventually if we change our attitude in order to be so. Children need guides, friendly guides if you prefer , but we must stick to our role even if is often hard. They’ll thank us one day.

  5. Parents and children can be friends when the children are grown and no longer under the supervision of their parents. They are more likely to become friends if the parents have done a good job of training the children when they are young.

  6. I believe my mother said it best to my sisters and me, “I’m your mother not your friend, you have boundaries and will live in them.” She also used reinforcements when we grew taller than she was. A wooden spoon, a ping pong paddle . . .

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