The spanking of a student by a Florida elementary school principal made national news and lawyers are now involved. I am in awe how our society has progressed in regard to our educational system, since the ’50s when I was educated.

I attended St. Lawrence in Utica through grade and high school. Our principal, Sister George Marie, was fond of rules and regulations and the enforcement of such. At her first school assembly she made it clear. “Your parents paid for this school and we will take care of it. They are paying for your education and we will see you get an education.”

There were many rules we had to observe. No short cuts could be made across the lawn. If you stepped on the grass, you met the board of education—as we called it—in her office. They sold penny candy during lunch hour with the profits going into the poor box. If you dropped a candy wrapper on the playground you were in trouble. When changing classes, we walked single file in the halls and did not talk. Talking was not allowed in the lavatories either. When the principal heard talking in the boy’s lavatory—her hearing was more acute than a piano tuner’s—she would enter and identify the culprit from the twenty boys lined up at the urinals, grab him by the collar or tie, and tow him to the office. The remaining nineteen of us were cracking-up, watching the poor guy trying to get his pants zipped up before the nun towed him out into the corridor. To the delight of many of us, bullies received their comeuppance at the hand of the principal and the board of education.

If you educated that way today you would have satellite offices for lawyers in the schools. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the spanking or paddling of students by school officials or teachers is lawful, where it has not been explicitly outlawed by local authorities. That decision still stands. Today our society has relieved our educators from the need to discipline our students, relinquishing that aspect of assisting in the raising of a child solely to the parents and eventually the courts in some cases. How do you think that’s working out?

In the working world of today, you are expected to function within a company’s rules and guidelines, meet corporate goals and deadlines while functioning as a productive team member. If you fall short of those expectations, your boss won’t give you a participation trophy, you will get the axe. That’s life and unfortunately there are very few do-overs in life.

A dozen of us St. Lawrence graduates from the class of 1958 and 1959 met for lunch once a month pre-COVID. We discussed the good old days in school, politics, economics, golf, the Lions and Tigers. We’re all retired and the group encompasses auto workers, barbers, realtors, managers, police and firemen. All of us have raised families comprised of successful individuals who are earning the space they occupied on this earth. Everyone there has the wherewithal to enjoy a comfortable retirement. In spite of the corporal punishment we encountered during our formative years, I feel we have succeeded in life.

Looking back, I feel all the rules and regulations imposed by Sister George Marie were intended to teach us self-discipline, self-respect, self-reliance. It discouraged us from taking shortcuts in our job performance or in our relationships. Those traits come into play every day of our lives.
Sister George Marie passed away a few years ago, and some of us attended her funeral. We owed it to her.

—Tom Janicki,