When he was in elementary school, my dad attended a one-room school house in the Fairmount community, about three miles southeast of Gentry, Arkansas. As I understand it, the students of that school were taught by a single teacher. I'm not sure about how that teacher handled the education of children who ranged from the first to the eighth grade but I'm guessing his methodology was effective, if sometimes a little unorthodox.
Yeah, about that.
It might come as a surprise to some folks but when my dad was 14 he was not the paragon of virtue he was later in life. He told the story of the time a friend of his brought a roll of caps from a toy cap pistol to school. My dad and his friend decided to conduct a "science experiment" and, when the teacher was engaged with other students, my dad put a cap under the metal foot of the desk leg and brought the foot down hard on the cap.
The result was impressive. My dad described the sound as similar to a "50 caliber buffalo rifle." And pandemonium ensued. There was screaming, and crying, and then abrupt silence as the teacher strode up to the desk where my dad sat, the sound still reverberating off the walls.
"You?" asked the teacher. My dad nodded.
The teacher then raised his hand and hit my dad on the side of his head with an open palm.
The force of the blow ruptured my dad's eardrum.
For some reason my dad neglected to tell his parents about the event. They found out about it months later and asked him about it. When he confirmed the story, they just shrugged their shoulders and went about their business. (Draw your own conclusions.)
I was reminded of this story when I read a while back about a lawsuit being filed against a math teacher and the Bentonville School District. Seems that some students were making fun of the way the teacher pronounced the word "quadrilateral" so he got annoyed, made a fist and threatened to pop a student in the nose. One young lady suffered so much psychic angst that her family filed the suit.
Now, for what it's worth, I'm inclined to believe that what the teacher was doing was called "exaggerating for effect." It happens sometimes, especially with "old school" teachers.
Case in point: One day, many years ago, I was teaching a class when a particularly talkative young lady just couldn't shut up. "Sis," I said to her, "if you don't ratchet back a little bit, I'm gonna turn you into toothpaste."
Know what she did? She laughed. She laughed because she was well-adjusted enough, and intuitive enough, to know that I wasn't even likely to inconvenience her, let alone physically harm her. So she laughed. And I laughed. And we finished the class period in relative peace.
And that poor girl from Bentonville? Probably looking at years of therapy.
But at least her eardrums are intact.
Doug Chastain is a retired teacher and is currently a large-vehicle transportation specialist for the Siloam Springs School District. (Okay, he drives a bus.) He is also a grass maintenance technician at Camp Siloam. (Yeah, he mows the lawn.) You can contact him at dougcha[email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.