Punishment or Child Abuse?

Powerful essay by Michael Eric Dyson in the NYT this morning, on the subject of black people (like Adrian Peterson) who beat their children on the pretext of disciplining them. 

"While 70 percent of Americans approve of corporal punishment, black Americans have a distinct history with the subject. Beating children has been a depressingly familiar habit in black families since our arrival in the New World. As the black psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs wrote in “Black Rage,” their 1968 examination of psychological black life: “Beating in child-rearing actually has its psychological roots in slavery and even yet black parents will feel that, just as they have suffered beatings as children, so it is right that their children be so treated.”

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense. Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.

The teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary

I find it almost impossible to write meaningfully about the children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. Not just because it’s emotionally overwhelming — it is — but because it is simply inexplicable. Beyond what language can contain.

Instead, I’d like to say a word about the 6 women who died at the school that day:

  1. Dawn Hochsprung, 47, School principal
  2. Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Teacher
  3. Lauren Rousseau, 30, Teacher
  4. Mary Sherlach, 56, School psychologist
  5. Victoria Soto, 27, Teacher
  6. Rachel Davino, 29, Teacher

As a child growing up in Texas, my Hindu parents taught me to regard education — the acquisition of knowledge — as a serious thing. That it is in fact sacred, the preserve of deities like Saraswati and Ganesha. When you’re a kid, that can be a little abstract, but certain basic rules — no defacing books, no touching books (or even paper) with your feet — take root.

One of the most fundamental principles, as far as they were concerned, was that teachers were to be respected. So for my folks, and for me now as an adult and parent, it was always mystifying to see teachers in this country, and teaching, be disparaged. Legitimate public debates over education reform seemed to cross a line at some point when they allowed the regular and casual vilification of teachers, to suggest that as a group they’re underperformers, or couldn’t make it in the ‘real world.’

And then things like this happen.

No teacher should think their lives are on the line when they enter a classroom, but tragedies like Newtown are stark reminders of the responsibility school instructors bear on a daily basis. My hope is that Victoria Soto — the 27-year-old Sandy Hook teacher reportedly shot dead as she rushed her kids into a storage room — will be remembered as not just an individual hero, but someone who helped redefine her profession.

Because just as we acknowledge with police officers and fire fighters, and with members of our military, the pay for teachers is rarely equal to the work put in. But the least we can do as a society is accord honor to those willing to serve.