Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Poor kids get all the paddlings

April 20, 2013 

Maybe you noticed it too. Last Sunday, on our front page, we ranked the schools with the most paddlings so far this academic year.

The elementary school with the most paddlings was Muscogee, with 51. The middle school was Baker, with 110, and the high school was Carver, with 94.

All of those schools are south of Macon Road. Of the 23 schools with at least one paddling this year, 18 of them are south of Macon Road.

Some people hate when I mention Macon Road, but like it or not it's become Columbus' dividing line between the haves and the have-nots.

There's an even better way to draw the poverty line, and that's to look at the schools with a majority of students on the reduced or free lunch program.

Some people hate when I mention the reduced or free lunch program as an indicator of poverty, but like it or not it's the statistic used by the state of Georgia to define schools with students living in poverty, and it passes the eyeball test.

According to the free lunch stats, Britt David Elementary and Blackmon Road Middle are the public schools tasked with educating Muscogee County’s most affluent children, while Muscogee Elementary and Baker Middle schools are home to the poorest.

Sounds about right.

Now remember that Muscogee Elementary, with 100 percent of its students on the free or reduced lunch program, has the most paddlings among elementary schools, and Baker Middle, at 91 percent, has the most among middle schools.

The other schools that used corporal punishment most frequently were Eddy Middle (87 percent impoverished students) with 101 paddlings, Davis Elementary (94 percent) with 32 paddlings and Marshall Middle (90 percent) with 32 paddlings.

In fact, every elementary and middle school that conducted one or more paddlings had at least 65 percent of its students classified as living in poverty.

Why do our poor kids, who routinely perform far worse on Georgia standardized tests than the poor kids from other counties, get paddled while our middle- and upper-class kids do not?

I have no idea.

So I called the Rev. Willie Phillips, an activist fighting to improve the quality of schooling — and parenting — south of Macon Road.

He has no idea either, but he had a few things to say about paddling.

"I got paddled all the way from elementary school to high school," he says. He says the last paddling he received was as a 10th grader at Hardaway High, which no longer paddles, and that given the choice between three days and three licks, he’d take the licks every time.

"You take corporal punishment out of school, I believe you're messing up," he says, "like taking prayer out of schools."

But he says it must be delivered in the proper manner. “You can paddle in a loving way and an abusive way," he says.

And it doesn't work with every child. “A lot of them come out of homes where they don’t get love," he says. "You put a paddle to a lot of them, it just makes them angrier. You get beat at home, why do you want to come to school and get beat?”

"For me, I needed the paddling," he says.

Phillips says that the purpose of any discipline should be to teach students how to succeed, not to break their spirits.

"A lot of them don’t know the difference between right and wrong,” he says. “It takes one-on-one to show them ‘I love you’ and ‘here’s what you need to do.’"

He says that he and his wife work with a principal who really loves her students: Cenobia Moore at Brewer Elementary, where 96 percent of the students are considered to be living in poverty. “She loves her students and loves her teachers,” Phillips says. “She says, ‘I know you can do the job, but you need to improve in this area. You’ve got to act this-a-way, you can’t act that-a-way.”

That's the trick to disciplining children, Phillips says, whether you’re going to paddle or them or not.

Moore, by the way, won’t allow it at Brewer.

She continues to fight an uphill battle along with every other school below the poverty line, however and wherever you care to draw it.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at dkholmes@  ledger-enquirer.com

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