School Discipline in the 1940's and '50's in the Mountains of Virginia
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 by Frank Shortt
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          While attending a rural, two-room elementary school in Virginia as a young student, I saw firsthand the tactics used to keep children in line. Some methods used seemed downright barbaric, but in light of the period, they were mostly very effective.

          Grimsleyville, otherwise called Grassy Elementary School, was comprised of all children from the hills and hollows (called hollers) of upper Buchanan County, Virginia. These children were raised by parents who believed in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’! Some children were downright abused as was evident by their demeanor at school. Some were sneaks, some were very shy, some were over-assertive, but most were good students, and normal children.

          The two teachers there when I attended elementary school were, Murtis and Lucy Wade. Murtis ran the ‘big room’ comprised of fourth through seventh grades so she was named ‘principal’. Discipline in the ‘little room’ was sometimes a little difficult due to the fact that in those days if a child could not keep up with the studies he, or she, was retained in the present grade until he or she was able to master the curriculum. Oftentimes there would be students that were a head taller than most of the children. It was said of the boys that ‘they packed a razor in their lunch buckets’! This was often a left over lard pail!

          One method of punishment was to have the errant child stand at the black board where a ring was placed just a tad higher than the child’s nose. The recalcitrant one would then be required to stand on tiptoe and keep their nose in the ring. If he or she let down, a sharp rap on the hind end with a ruler would speed the child back up on their toes. No child that I knew ever wanted to be humiliated again by this method. Another punishment was to stand in front of the classroom and write a hundred times on the blackboard, “I will not talk in school! I will not talk in school!” or whatever the offense was. Another method was to have the child stand on one foot for a period of time to allow them to think of the breach of rules, which were many in those days until the teachers gained control of those mountain children.

         A last resort, for hardened flouters of discipline, was to paddle their back side with a special board prepared for this purpose. One older, overgrown boy once took the paddle away from a teacher and swatted her with it. Another, whose hands were toughened by over-work on the farm, put his knuckles in the path of the paddle rendering the half inch board into splinters. There was a great look of surprise on the teacher’s face and the boy became an instant hero. Later in the week a smaller, tow-headed boy tried the same thing, the teacher having obtained a new paddle, but the results was sore knuckles for a week or two. Needless to say, this boy did not ever try that again. The new paddle was less seasoned wood than the former one.

         One of the saddest punishments I have ever witnessed was when a tall, slower-minded girl had talked back to one of the teachers. The teacher immediately invited the girl to the front of the room to face her breach of discipline. The girl, realizing her mistake, refused to go to the front of the class. After several demands by the teacher to ‘come forward’! The girl kept refusing knowing the humiliation this would cause her. The teacher became more and more agitated! When she had taken all she could take, having a short fuse to begin with, she took the paddle to the girl, began beating her across the back, shouting at the girl all the while! The teacher must have realized that what she was doing was setting a very bad example of being an adult, so before she really hurt the girl, she left off hitting her, walked to the front of the class, and sat at her desk with a defeated and dejected look. We did not know which to feel sorry for, the teacher or the student. This was one of the quietest classrooms for some time that had ever been in the history of Grassy School.

          One emotional boy named Harold was somewhat of a discipline problem because at the slightest provocation he would begin to scream to the top of his lungs. One day another student happened to enrage him while class was in progress. He began screaming as loud as possible. The teacher went to him at once and raised him up out of his seat and declared, “I’ll teach you to scream in this classroom!” The more she paddled him, the louder he screamed! She soon grew tired and left off hitting him, instead, taking him to the cloakroom to cool off. He cooled off soon after and this was his method of punishment thereafter. He could not stand being all alone in the smelly cloakroom where rotting lunches and dirty outer garments were hanging.

          I must mention one incident where I tasted Murtis’ paddle, which was fashioned by my own father. A boy named Kenneth, and I, were both allowed to go to the outhouse at the same time. Behind the stinky facility was a sharp incline where we would slide down the embankment on cardboard, if we could find some. This day, after a snow storm which had melted, we decided to slide down with just our jeans for protection. Needless to say, we became very muddy in a short time. We both knew the consequences as Mrs. Wade had warned us to stay out of the mud. We tried to sneak back to our seats but her eagle eye spotted us right away. I shall never forget being paddled with ‘dad’s design’, and to top it all off, Mrs. Wade pulled my flimsy overalls tight in the behind so to make each wallop sting the more. Muddy inclines never looked the same, nor tempted me, thereafter. Then there was the inevitable ‘whomping’ after I arrived home and the older siblings told my dad about the incident at school.

          After being promoted to High School, I was under the delusion that my paddling days were over. Not so! Mr. B.T. Quillen had the remedy for wayward mountain boys, a well-seasoned maple paddle. I tasted it, at least once, after entering high school. I cannot say whether these methods were right or wrong. I can only say that Buchanan County produced some very productive American citizens as some became very wealthy, giving back to the community, that most had said, “I never want to see Buchanan County again!”

As mom used to say, “Chickens always come to roost!”