Decades ago, unruly behavior in a classroom was generally chalked up to an inept teacher. That may be true today. I doubt it. Today's teachers must always be aware of lawsuit-happy parents who probably don't enforce any discipline at home.
It's been a half-century, but personal public school memories persist. The most vivid recollection is the threat of corporal punishment. Misbehavior involved poking the student in front, shooting spitballs, talking, reading a magazine instead the textbook and sleeping. It was almost never more serious.
Student miscreants could expect, at the very least, a sharply worded rebuke, being forced to sit in a corner, physical contact of varying degrees or the dreaded banishment to the principal's office.
In the school I attended, a wooden paddle was prominently displayed on the principal's office wall, ready to be applied to a bottom. The paddle was seldom used but student gossip described horrendous pain and humiliation, not to mention what would happen when the pupil got home.
This particular school was small, less than 300 students in eight grades. It served the surrounding scatter of farms and a town of 1,300 population. Not that much different than, say, Hana.
One well-remembered teacher could maintain strict discipline with only a stern look. Less gentle teachers would pull your ear. An upper-grade teacher liked to smack kids on the head with a ruler or, in extreme circumstances, use the ruler to smack palms. The teacher did it in front of all the students, forcing the offending student to stand and present his hand. There was no lasting damage, but the sharp, stinging pain forged a indelible memory. Don't ask how I know. In high school, there was one biology teacher who had lost part of his right-index finger. When riled, he'd stick the stub in a student's ear and twist.
And, or course, most parents enforced discipline with spanking. Youngsters soon learned to keep their heads down and their mouths shut when around adults. In that small town, there were no strangers and everyone felt free to discipline any kid who happened to be acting up. Kids resented the system, but they respected their elders while dreaming of the time when they would be the big guys.
That was then.
Every so often, some egregious student behavior in a Maui classroom or playground surfaces. The common reaction is to wonder why the teacher didn't do something before the student got out of hand.
Recently, I ran into a veteran teacher/administrator. "I've been thinking about classroom discipline." He laughed.
Hawaii Administrative Rules Title 8, Chapter 19 covers "Student misconduct, discipline . . . police interviews and arrests" among other things. The chapter is 38 pages long and loaded with language designed, if not written, by lawyers. To the untrained eye, the operative section can be found on Page 20.
"Disciplinary action shall be taken for all class offenses [listed at the beginning of the chapter] in grades kindergarten through twelve in accordance with procedures established under this chapter and within the following options as determined by the authorities designated in section 9-19-5. Interventions to teach students appropriate behaviors must be instituted when disciplinary actions are imposed."
There's always the prospect of the teacher and school being sued. (A recent writer of a letter to The Maui News wondered why special-needs students are being taught in normal classrooms. A lawsuit back in the 1980s when Lokelani Lindsey was Maui's district supervisor ended with a judge requiring special-needs students to be "mainstreamed.")
Back to Title 8, Chapter 19. "Disciplinary action options may include the following." Most teachers probably translate "may include" to mean "limited to."
There are 16 options, beginning with "correction and conference with student." They include detention, loss of privileges, parent conferences, suspension and dismissal. Parents of kids who come home whining can appeal school discipline, launching a lengthy quasi-judicial procedure.
Of course, actual physical contact is strictly prohibited. That could get a teacher arrested for assault, and even the youngest kids are ready to remind teachers what can happen.
To quote Kurt Vonnegut, "And so it goes."
* Ron Youngblood is a retired staff writer and editor for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.