Tag Archives: Corporal punishment

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John Roche, a graduate of St. Raymond’s High School for Boys, a journalist and author, shares with us his experiences at Catholic schools following Christopher Mele’s blog post about corporal punishment.

Roche’s recently published book, “Bronx Bound,” is a cop thriller/mystery set in the familiar environs of his old Bronx neighborhoods, including Orchard Beach, Parkchester, Tremont Avenue and other settings.

I can honestly say that all throughout my Catholic schooling, I only got hit when I deserved it. And I can add that, during those 13 years, I deserved a lot more smacks than I ever got from a Christian Brother, Sister of Charity, priest or a lay teacher.

The slaps I did receive are etched in my mind.

But truth be told, all these years later, with all kinds of political correctness under the bridge, I still strongly feel that I deserved it. I just wished I knew that was the punishment that would be meted out before I committed the transgression.

It wasn’t a terrible crime, and actually, then and now, it was kind of funny.

A math teacher was chastising me for wasting my time, mind and my parents’ money, explaining that they worked hard to pay her to teach me algebra.

“Your parents hired me and pay me to be here, so if you don’t care about wasting your time and talents, you should care about that,” she said. “I’m being paid by them, by YOU, to teach you this.”

I couldn’t resist.

“So if my family is paying your salary, it’s like you’re our employee, right?”

“Exactly!” was poor, unsuspecting Mrs. Webb’s response.

I fixed my tie a little, and then said, “If that’s the case, take the rest of the day off.”

The class went crazy with laughter, and Mrs. Webb’s face went crimson.  I actually felt bad for her, even later in the day during detention.

At St. Raymond’s, an all-boys high school in the Bronx, detention amounted to what we called “The Wall.”

We had to stand along the wall (not against it; leaning could result in a second day’s detention) outside the principal’s office.

I was a frequent visitor, mostly for being late for school in the morning. Frequent, like three out of five days, and more if you threw in the trouble I got in for being a smartass.

I was a smartass, but I was also smart, and that got me out of detention early most days.

Our principal, Brother Christopher, was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. And sensible.

Brother Chris

Once, for instance, I got The Wall for chewing gum in class.  When he asked me why I was in detention that particular day, I told him, and rolled my eyes, I guess.

He questioned why I seemed annoyed, and I said that it seemed silly to me that people could chew gum anytime and anywhere, but doing so in school was forbidden. We had that hammered into us since we were in first grade, yet it didn’t make any sense.

“Gum, once chewed and no longer wanted, creates a mess — stuck under desks, in books, on walls, in the hair of our fellow students,” Brother Christopher explained. Huh.

The best part of The Wall, was that most days, after 20 minutes or so of standing, Brother Christopher would ask a question, and if you got the answer correct, you could leave.

I got a lot of those questions right, like “What is the definition of ilk?” or “What does the ‘S’ stand for in Harry S Truman?”

This day — the day I embarrassed my well-intentioned math teacher almost to the point of tears — Brother Christopher stepped before me and with a smile asked a question.

“Would you like a ceart-laimh or a ciotog?”

I was stumped, but I knew I had a 50/50 chance at being right, and ciotog, rhyming at the end with rogue, sounded better to my ear.

“I’ll take a ciotog, Brother,” I said.

With that, Brother Christopher swung and clipped my jaw with the stone fist of his left hand. Everyone else on The Wall collectively gasped, which I could barely hear over the ringing in my head from the punch.

“You can go now,” he said. “You’re lucky you didn’t pick the right hand. No more disrespect to your math teacher, understood?”

Holding my still-stinging jaw, I nodded.

I don’t remember much algebra these days. But 36 years later, I remember that lefty punch.

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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.

Patnosh

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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