Discipline vs. abuse

The line isn't always clear -- except when it's crossed.

We certainly would understand a teacher getting fed up. As if by evolution, nature seems to endow succeeding generations of kids with new and more effective ways of getting under one’s skin.

Meanwhile, parents and society in general have grown far less supportive of beleaguered teachers over the years – and far too reflexively supportive of little Johnny and his antics. These days, he’s never a remorseless brat; no, he’s a victim of some disability that causes him to involuntarily wreak havoc and which requires medication and the eternal forbearance of everyone around him.

Most of us are old enough, too, to remember when real punishment was meted out at school – and probably was duplicated at home.

But times have changed, in this case for the better: We no longer accept physical or mental punishment in institutions of learning, and for good reason: Too many folks don’t know where discipline ends and abuse begins.

That’s true even in the rough-and-tumble world of men’s college athletics. Rutgers University last week fired basketball coach Mike Rice after video surfaced of him berating his players with anti-homosexual slurs, shoving and kicking them and throwing basketballs at them with great force.

Nor does abuse have to be physical.

In Augusta, a longtime Copeland Elementary School pre-kindergarten teacher was removed from the classroom last month, and is being allowed to retire in May, for putting two children in a dark closet and bathroom as disciplinary measures.

Despite our sympathy for what teachers endure, we have none in this case.

A teacher of 29 years, such as the one in this case, should know better. There are plenty of protocols on handling unruly kids, measures that don’t involve potential trauma.

Indeed, at least one of the children is said to have suffered nightmares, a fear of the dark and other repercussions.

That’s simply not necessary in order to make a point.

As for the notion that many of us encountered worse punishments and turned out fine – well, that’s not necessarily the case. Most folks carry around more baggage than they realize from less-than-stellar rearing methods. Let’s hope society is getting more cultivated as the years go by.

In addition, the teacher’s actions show a complete lack of sophistication – for an adult to resort to verbal or emotional torment. We’re supposed to be smarter than the children we supervise; there are tools in an adult’s toolbox that eliminate the need for such tactics.

This newspaper will always seek first to support teachers in their efforts to keep order in the classroom. But they – and their methods – must be worthy of that support.

More