By Norris Chambers

             In the old days there was considerable fussing and fighting by the students. It seemed that there was always an issue that could not be settled by negotiation or arbitration. Such a disagreement usually ended in a fight between those who disagreed. The superintendent was noted for punishing those involved in violent arguments and was known as the best “Switch- Master” in the county.

           The first year I started to school some sort of misbehaving had occurred between some older students. The superintendent had the whole school assembled in the auditorium to witness the administration of suitable punishment! Two big boys had been sent to the dirt tank below the hill to gather some willow switches. They brought them in and handed them to the boss. He inspected them carefully, removing a few twigs here and there. The shortest of them was at least four feet long.  He thanked them and told them to be seated. His attention then turned to the three boys who were to be punished.            

          “Boys,” he said. “I told you last week that I would not tolerate any violation of school rules. You are accused of throwing rocks at girls. Do you have anything to say?” One of the boys answered, his voice quivering slightly; “We didn’t throw rocks, it was only clods. And we didn’t throw them; we just sort of tossed them!”  He asked again if there was further comment, then hearing none, ordered the three suspects to proceed to the middle of the stage, bend over and assume position, facing the audience. He then walked behind the trio, raised the switch and brought it down sharply on the rear of the first boy on his right. The lick was followed by a loud screech, denoting severe pain. The second victim received a similar lashing and added his voice to the painful cries still echoing in the auditorium. Before another lick could be added the third boy jumped up and ran for the side entrance of the stage. He made about three hurried steps toward the stairs but was immediately grabbed by the principal and dragged back on the stage.

            After a brief struggle he was back in position. The switch-master lost no time in”applying the limb”, as such switch punishment was often referred to by the old timers. Each of the clod throwers received four more licks. He then ordered the three culprits to take positions with their respective classes and told them that he didn’t want to see them on his punishment list again. “Each offense doubles the licks of the last one, so keep it low!

            Clifton and I were thoroughly scared. I silently resolved to make an extreme effort to stay out of trouble. The administering of such punishment would probably lead to a serious lawsuit today. There is still need for discipline in school but physical punishments, such as switching or belting, are no longer allowed. Neither Clifton nor I suffered that kind of punishment, not because we were always good boys but because we were careful not to get caught!

            Not all parents accepted the superintendent’s punishment procedure. One of the boys that he had threshed (another word used by old timers) in the auditorium had numerous cuts and bruises on and about his upper legs. Blood had stained his pants, underwear and socks. The boy couldn’t sit. One of the cuts was infected and a doctor had ordered him to stay in bed and take two pills a day. Antibiotics were not available in those days. The doctors did the best they could.

            This tale does not end with a search for fun. The father of the injured boy provided the ending, at least as we knew it, by appearing at our school early one morning. Apparently it was his intention to arrive in time to greet the superintendent when he parked his Chevvy in the usual spot by the well house. When he began walking toward the school building, carrying some items under one arm, the father stepped in front of him.

            For a minute or two we heard some loud conversation, and then the father pulled a pistol from a back pocket, or somewhere, and began firing. We heard two loud shots and as the victim fell the father continued to empty the pistol in his upper leg.

            We did not see any more violent punishments. The school board decided that a paddle, no longer than 18 inches, could be used but the paddling surface should have half-inch holes not more than one inch apart! I guess this altered paddle made a spotted pattern on tender flesh but I never heard of a serious injury from a school paddling!