Corporal Punishment and Catholic Schools

On a recent visit to see my parents, the conversation turned to stories of how they enforced discipline with their three children.

Being the oldest, naturally, I was subjected to the worst of it.

Spatulas. Belts. Shoes.

They were all weapons of ass destruction.

They were used when I was being mouthy or disrespectful, which as I recall, was often.

But as much as my parents were enforcers of discipline, they were no match for the nuns, Christian brothers and lay teachers who made up the staff of the Catholic schools of my youth.

I recall my second-grade teacher who had “the lightning rod,” a steel ruler that was as thick as it was inflexible.

Another teacher used to grind his school ring into your skull.

I attended an all-boys Catholic high school in the Bronx where faculty members were liberal in doling out punishment and enforcing discipline.

For freshman algebra, I had Brother Tin, a Christian brother who stood about 4-foot nothing.

But his stature belied his speed.

Brother Tin

I don’t recall why, but one day a classmate, Mike Wasilewski,  who stood about 6-foot-2, got in trouble and was called to the front of the classroom.

In his heavily accented English, Brother Tin said: “Wasilewski, take off your glasses.”

I never saw Brother Tin’s hands even leave his sides but I vividly recall Wasilewski’s  head recoiling from the sharp, loud smack he took across his face.

But perhaps the most memorable story came on an afternoon while we waited outside a locked classroom and were gathered in the hallway.

This one student, Mike, was recounting a story to a buddy and it was laced with F bombs.

“F bomb this and F bomb that…”

Unfortunately for him, he did not realize that the office of our assistant principal, Ron Patnosh, was scant feet away.


And his door was open. And he was inside. Listening.

The next thing I knew Patnosh materialized as if he were an apparition.

“Where do you think you are?! Do you think you are out on the streets?! How dare you talk that way!”

As he shouted at the F bomber, each sentence was punctuated with a loud smack across the kid’s kisser.

I just stood there doe-eyed like Buckwheat from the Little Rascals.

All of this reminds me of the story of the incorrigible kid whose dad is going nuts dealing with his son’s misbehavior at school.

At public school, the kid is a disaster academically and routinely gets suspended.

The dad tries to enroll his son in a private school but the results are the same.

In desperation, the dad decides to send his son to Catholic school.

Lo and behold, the kid straightens up, discipline complaints from teachers disappear and his grades soar.

One night the dad sits the son down and asks: “After all of the trouble and anguish you put me through, why now did you decide to behave in school?”

The son replied: “Dad, I walked in the classroom and took one look at that guy nailed on the cross, and I knew they meant business!”

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